Closing the Gender Gap

Even though progress has been made, women still earn less than their male colleagues. Get tips and resources to help women advance their careers.

This site is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Seventy-nine cents on the dollar. That's how much money women in 2015 are making when compared alongside their male counterparts. The gender gap is an ever-present issue in the global workforce, with further wage inequities present when comparing salaries for minority females. In the last eight years, the gap has shrunk by just two pennies per dollar, illustrating the need for more women and their allies to join together and demand fairness. While much has changed since the signing of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, there remains much to be done. Dig into the causes, explore the history of fair pay movements, and get actionable tips on how women can fight to close the gender gap.

What Causes the Gender Gap?

The gender gap is a complicated issue with many factors contributing to an overall lower rate of pay for women. While critics argue the disparity boils down to personal decisions, the American Association of University Women dispelled this notion. In a survey of men and women who graduated college a year prior, females still earned only 82 percent of their male peers. Even after taking into account factors such as choice of major, geographical location, marital status, grades, and economic status, a seven percent gap remained. Women who have risen above the wage gap realize it's not a question of if it still exists, but rather how they can use their knowledge to combat its effects. The following review of causes arms female professionals with valuable insights to ensure they are one step ahead of common challenges to equal pay.


Though higher education access for some women has improved in recent years, several issues still exist. Although more and more females are attaining postsecondary degrees, this increase is not equal across races and ethnicities.

While white and Asian American women are outpacing their male counterparts in terms of attending college, the number of female minorities attending and completing their degrees still lags behind. Reasons for this are varied, though much of it comes down to the accessibility of college for female minority students.

A 2011 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that, while 82 percent of high-school students from high income families enroll in college, that number plummets to 52 percent for students from low income families. Given that African American and Hispanic families alone account for 52 percent of all low income families, it quickly becomes evident that minority women face additional challenges in obtaining educations.

The second issue revolves around the disparity between how degrees earned by men and women are seen differently by employers. A report by The American Center for Progress found that women must earn an additional degree to make the same amount as a male co-worker over the course of their professional careers. For example, it's projected that a woman with a doctoral degree will earn the same as a man with a bachelor's degree.


When it comes to taking care of a family, expectations placed on women often go beyond simply being responsible for producing children. Although a shift is currently taking place and more men are staying home to take care of children, historically women have either been expected to stop working entirely or at least take a number of years off work to raise offspring.

This pressure rises exponentially for single mothers, as they must take into consideration questions of childcare and balancing an ever-growing set of responsibilities. Even for women who happily stay home during their child's first few years, they face the issue of lagging behind male counterparts in areas of skills and experience.

A Stanford University report found that when holding the same qualifications and experience and going for the same job as a man, mothers were discriminated against in both perceived competence and starting salaries. Men, conversely, often receive wage premiums if they are fathers.

Segregation in Occupations

In industries or fields historically dominated by men, women face additional pressures to prove themselves and compete in an outnumbered environment. This issue has been seen in STEM fields for decades, where women may feel unwelcome. The gap begins early in education and is clearly evident by college.

While reports about male-centric workforces and occupational segregation are valuable for highlighting a continuing problem, these issues must be addressed at the educational level to see change. Some industries are slowly turning the boat around, but there is still much work to be done to accomplish equality in both workforce balance and salaries.


Most recent studies are able to account for approximately 60 percent of the reasons for pay inequality between men and women, leaving 40 percent open to interpretation. A report by the National Women's Law Center suggests a large portion of this unknown cause can be chalked up to discrimination.

While discrimination can take many forms and be rooted in the reasons discussed above, it is overwhelmingly unfounded. The Institute for Women's Policy Research is continually furthering and expanding on this conversation and offers excellent resources and research for women who feel they've been discriminated against in areas of pay, promotions or hiring practices.

Gender Gap on the Job

Be it outright or nuanced differences, women can face a number of issues within the workplace. Ranging from discrimination for promotions or taking time off to segregation within occupational sectors, the progress of the last half-decade has still not created true gender equality. While fathers are often rewarded with larger salaries or bonuses, mothers are penalized or even passed over for jobs. The following takes a look at some of the biggest issues facing working women today.

Gender Gap and an Individual Woman's Career

While the majority of reports focus on national statistics about the gender gap, every woman in America has felt its effects on her ability to provide for herself and her family. The difference between men's and women's median earnings was $10,762 annually as of 2015, with the difference widening after accounting for advanced levels of experience and education. This figure becomes all the more sobering when considering the causes and effects of such disparities on individual careers. Some of these include:

Jeopardized economic security for working mothers
Location plays a large role
Depending on the state a woman resides, the gender pay gap can be even more significant than the national average. In a 2014 research project conducted by the American Association of University Women, researchers found a wide difference among the top and bottom states for working females. While Washington D.C. sat above the average, with women earning 90 percent of what men make, as the lowest ranking state, Louisiana pays female workers only 65 percent of male earnings.
Lower wages
Though progressive thought is working to reduce the pay gap across genders, in 2014 women still made an average of 79 cents on the dollar when compared to men. If both a man and a woman are working in the exact same job, same location, and the same point in their careers, while the man would earn a salary of $50,000, the female would only take home $39,500 each year.
Lower retirement funds
“Pink collar” jobs
Even with strides made in recent years, women can often feel relegated to specific careers that have come to be known as “pink collar.” Of the careers where women are most prevalent, these still include “historically female” roles, such as secretaries, administrative assistants, elementary and middle school teachers, and housekeepers. All of these jobs pay significantly less than the roles historically held by men, such as bankers, lawyers and doctors.
Women earn less as they age or build families

What the Gender Gap Means for Minorities

Female minorities in the workplace face the pressure of not only navigating gender discrimination, but also the possibility of racial discrimination. While Asian American women fare best in wage gap studies, women from minorities with historically higher rates of poverty and lower rates of education face the largest discrepancies. This is especially true for Hispanic or Latina, American Indian, and African American women, who experience gaps with men of their own race and even larger gaps when considered against white men. We take a closer look at these numbers below.

A 2013 report found that Asian American women experienced the smallest gender gap, earning 90 percent of what their white male counterparts were paid.

Hispanic and Latina women have the largest gender gap overall, with their earnings representing only 54 percent of what a white male counterpart took home.

Even within women's pay, race still plays a role. In a survey of women who all held bachelor's degrees, Hispanic and African American women still made less than white and Asian American women.

While African American women made 89 percent of what their male counterparts of the same race earned, this number dropped to 64 percent when compared to white men's earnings.

Though American Indian and Alaska Native women earn only 60 percent of the salaries of white male co-workers, this number rose to 87 percent when compared against male workers of the same race/ethnicity.

Many gender gaps within races and ethnicities are slowly closing; however, the gap for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women widened by one percent in 2012-2013.

Closing the Gap

During World War II, thousands of women began working in factories and at plants to produce crucial supplies for both the war and at home. As veterans returned home, women were pushed out of these jobs and once more had to page through the gender segregated job listings in their local newspapers. As of the 1950's, women brought home an average of 40 percent less than men in the same positions. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to pay women less based solely on their gender, with other demonstrable qualifications such as seniority, experience or merit listed as the only reasons to enact differing pay scales.

Since that time, other rulings have helped push the conversation along: by 1990, women earned 71.6 percent of male salaries, while the year 2000 saw them earning 73.3 percent on the dollar. The last 15 years has seen this percentage rise to 79, yet this is still far from equal. To expedite the process, women must begin working to close the gender gap in their own lives.

How Women Can Make an Impact

Women seeking to bridge the gender wage gap have several options to pursue. Some of those proven most effective are outlined below.

Cultivate Negotiating Skills

One of the biggest mistakes working women can make is not asking for more. Research has shown females are paid less across the board, and innumerable companies will take advantage of this fact. Even if starting small, it's important to include this skill in your repertoire of tools for ensuring a fair contract.

Keep Using Those Skills

So you negotiated your current job and are content with where you landed. That's great, but be sure you continue using those skills throughout your career. A study by Catalyst found that 47 percent of women MBA graduates had countered the offer of their first job. As the study followed these same women, it reported that only 31 percent countered the offer of their next job. Don't let your negotiating skills go unused.

Contact a Congressional Representative

Whether on the local, state or federal level, there are a number of measures floating through committees to help further equality within wage gaps. One of the most significant pieces of legislation currently on the table is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would give women better tools to fight against wage inequalities and ensure full compensation is given to those who experience gender-based pay discrimination. Women should contact their representatives and let their voices be heard in support of favorable bills.

Pick a Fair Field

A report by the Center for American Progress found that nearly half of all women hold the same 20 occupations. By working in female-dominated fields, it's hard to differentiate yourself and point out pay inequalities. For women with broader interests, consider a career that has been traditionally male-dominated where progressive leaders are actively trying to recruit a female workforce. STEM-related careers are a great example currently, with many companies offering incentives aimed at attracting female professionals.

Seek Out Promotions

The gender wage gap is at it's most narrow for women in their mid- to late-twenties. This timeframe is traditionally before females begin having children and taking time off to focus on families. With this in mind, women should actively push for promotions early in their careers and land on a higher ladder rung. Regardless of future family choices, women in more senior roles will have more leveraging power.

Talk About Yourself

Self-promotion can be very off-putting to some, but it's important to let supervisors and others in power know when you do something well or accomplish a goal for the company. Thanks to tools like LinkedIn, this can also be done in a public setting. Many users now post regular blogs or discussions about their work, highlighting successes and positioning them perfectly for other companies to see their progress and make job offers.

Negotiation Tips for Women

After a hacking scandal at Sony Entertainment, news broke that Jennifer Lawrence had received significantly less pay than her male co-stars in a recent blockbuster film. In October 2015, the actress penned an Op-Ed piece empowering women to become better and stronger negotiators rather than simply trusting the process will be fair. Because pay equality is still in the future, women must learn how to be confident when asking for the salaries they know they are worth. Some of the best tips for productive negotiation sessions include:

  • Just Do It
    Perhaps the biggest obstacle is to simply negotiate, period. A 2014 book by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever found that while 46 percent of men negotiate salary offers, this number plummets to 30 percent when considering women. If you feel the package being offered isn't fair or what you're worth, speak up.
  • Know Your Worth
    Building off the previous idea, it's important to know the salary range you can demand based on skills, experience and previous accomplishments. It's also important to factor in your vision and ability to lead a company or team forward. In these situations, women can often feel stifled or worry they are putting too much of the spotlight on themselves. Instead, reframe the conversation in your head and remind yourself that for potential employers to receive your best work, you need to feel you're properly valued and that includes monetarily.
  • Develop Your Negotiation Style
    Rather than feeling like you must be aggressive, go in with a strong, well-reasoned argument of why you are worth the amount you're asking. Be clear, concise and well-researched and use intelligent rhetoric to convince employers in your own way.
  • Don't Apologize
    Whatever you do, don't apologize. Countless women have been conditioned to say they're sorry, especially in situations where they feel they are being unreasonable. Women are very concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, and often feel that, by having their own demands or needs, they are inconveniencing others. The fact of the matter is that these thoughts have no place at the negotiating table. While it's important to be fair in your ask, you must also unapologetically believe in yourself and your worth.
  • Present a Win-Win Scenario
    Because women are attuned to the needs of others, use this to your advantage. While a fair salary is directly beneficial to you, it also enables you to produce your best work for the company and stakeholders. Women who are underpaid have no monetary incentive to continue growing and improving in their roles, whereas those who feel they are valued and respected will go to great lengths to achieve success for those they work with.
  • Have the Conversation a Few Times
    Most women like to be prepared and know what they're walking into. This is especially true in tense settings like negotiations, which can often have several outcomes. Before going into a meeting to discuss salary expectations, role play the scene to think through what you want to say and what they are likely to say. Imagine their responses to your needs, and think about the best ways to accomplish your end goal.
  • Stick to Your Guns
    It's easy to walk into a negotiation and worry that employers will think your demands are outrageous. Many women fall into this trap, and accept a minuscule salary raise instead of holding out for what they know they're worth. Don't settle for decent, good or better: go for best. Whether it's a percentage, a set amount, or a strategy to increase your salary over a time period, go in with valid and concrete reasons and hold to them throughout the entire process.

What Society Is Doing to Close the Gender Gap

In the following section, women and advocates of wage equality can learn more about some of the mainstream initiatives in place to reduce gender-based pay discrimination.

Federal Government Programs

The U.S. Department of Labor has set up the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to reduce and eliminate discrimination amongst federal contractors and subcontractors. The OFCCP works to identify patterns of underpaid work and offer affirmative action and equal employment opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender, race, color, national origin, or religion.

Crowd Funding

Based on a recent study, only 2.7 percent of startups receiving venture capital are headed by women. Crowd funding platforms such as Kickstarter, where an estimated 44 percent of investors are female, stand to dramatically alter these numbers. Given the storytelling nature of investment sites of this nature, women have the platform to share their vision and plan for companies, in turn eliciting more response and funding.


This global movement started by UN Women is focused on engaging men in the fight to put a stop to inequalities faced by women, be they social, political, or economical. As of October 2015, nearly half a million men from every continent had pledged their support and their voices to women as they work together to end discrimination.

Educational Performance Awareness

Though boys have historically had greater levels of access to education, especially higher education, the last 60 years have seen a dramatic shift. Women are no longer graduating high school and becoming homemakers; instead, women are outpacing men in both educational levels and overall abilities. Though women have shown greater skills in reading and English-related subjects for many years, the gap in accomplishments related to science and math fields is shrinking at a considerable rate. According to a study by a Paris-based think tank, 15-year-old boys are only about three months ahead of their female-counterparts in terms of mathematical knowledge. Given the enduring idea that these topics are better suited to boys, this awareness will likely have great impact on the future of STEM-related education and industry.

New Overtime Laws

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed a change to rules about overtime thresholds for salaried workers. The threshold, which hasn't been updated to account for inflation and rising costs since 1975, currently dictates that salaried workers are able to receive compensation for any hours over 40 per week, provided they don't make more than $23,660 annually. The newly proposed guidelines would raise this threshold to $50,440 annually, meaning millions of women would be eligible to receive overtime compensation to supplement their existing incomes.

Employee Packages

A number of companies are now offering perks and incentives aimed at serving their female employees, including longer maternity leaves, on-site daycare services, and opportunities to work from home. Of the companies we surveyed, none of these programs were seen as penalties to women, but rather ways of recognizing unique responsibilities and empowering them to find a healthy work-life balance.

Equal Pay Day

The National Committee on Pay Equity created National Equal Pay Day in 1996 to highlight the disparages between female and male salaries and to offer an annual day to review how the conversation has been moved forward in the previous year. The White House and a number of other significant national and international organizations now recognize the day each year.

Interview with Julie Holunga

Julie Holunga is a business and leadership coach who trains and develops small business leaders to bring direction, focus and effectiveness to their careers. Julie's clients are mid-career professionals who feel they have reached a plateau. At a loss for a community of professional peers to act as her sounding board, Julie started a Lean In Circle in 2014. Unlike a book club, this group is a place to celebrate professional successes without holding back and admit vulnerabilities without facing judgment. Julie experienced such great success leading the first group of women that she was asked to facilitate a second Circle.

How have you seen your Lean In group empower women to close the gender gap?

The group acts as a sounding board with peers – highly driven, motivated and successful women looking to up level their careers. They challenge each other if they are not stepping up to their potential, or playing small.

For example, a director of operations for a non-profit had been talking all year about becoming a certified project manager. At the year mark when we reviewed goals, her inaction. By the following meeting she had registered for a program this fall. Through the group discussions, she realized this certification propels her not only in her current role, but her career no matter where she works.

Honesty, and sometimes hard truths, allow women to try new things at work, knowing they have a dozen or more women behind them. They now seek and offer feedback.

One woman, the founder and COO of a tech company, noticed all the men at the end of the day congratulating each other on ‘crushing it' that day. We challenged her to try that herself, both at work, and on the playground while picking up her kids after school. She hesitated, but realized the benefit to those around her, not just herself.

Another small business owner had an employee who was underperforming for months. She addressed her LeanIn group who advised her. She went home that night, wrote up a performance plan, and met with her employee the next day. Within 2 months, he had surpassed their annual goals and was back on track.

A partner in a law firm worked with the group to build her brand and think about how to market herself. When an opportunity presented itself to start her own firm with 2 other colleagues, she jumped at the chance. She had gained confidence and was a little less risk averse. In just the first week of opening their doors, they had 80 clients.

On a day-to-day basis, how does the gender gap affect women in the workplace? On a long term basis?

Women hold back: speaking their opinions, taking credit for their accomplishments, and influencing others without fear. A general counsel for a private equity firm noticed some red flags in a deal they were considering. She waited through four weekly meetings reviewing the deal before saying anything. She works with smart, experienced men, and thought they understood the same red flags. At the end of the fourth meeting, she exploded and pointed it out. In the end, they did not pursue the deal, and she saved her company $4 million. Her take was not that she saved them from a losing opportunity, but that she was unprepared and blurted out her thoughts. She shifted her mindset, and now uses the LeanIn group to prepare for conversations she deems potentially controversial.

In the long term, it affects the next generations of leaders. We will not raise the current 17 percent line of positions in the c-suite filled by females by sitting back, by leaning out. We need diversity of thought, experience and perspective at all levels of decision-making. Any company serving customers and clients needs to represent them in leadership roles. Consulting firms feel this pain when they sit across the boardroom table from their clients and there is a visible difference in gender representation. Their clients demand similar representation. Women are expected to control about $22 trillion of American personal wealth by 2020 and represent the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households.

What are some of the additional gender gap issues faced by female minorities?

Women tend not to promote their accomplishments and successes. There is also a parent discount – a woman in the LeanIn group shared that her husband's colleagues didn't know she was pregnant until she was more than six months along. Women visibly wear their status, and often are discounted for it. Meanwhile, her pregnancy had little or no impact on her husband's career trajectory. An executive director of a research organization told her, “Your career will come to a standstill once the baby is born.”

Can you speak to the importance of negotiation when it comes to being a female professional?

Women tend not to negotiate; it is not their natural place of comfort. Hence why Harvard Law School has a class specifically for women on negotiating. The cost of not negotiating is that you place yourself in a ‘bucket' that is hard to get out of.

Interview with Jenni Brozena

Jenni Brozena is an entrepreneur, international sport scientist, and Founder/President of Aqueous, an aquatic athlete's international full service network for sport science, human performance and healthcare services. She is also the founder of Chester County Pennsylvania's Lean In chapter, which is now the Business Women's Alliance. Jenni is passionate about empowering women in business as well as millennial management. She is skilled in start-up management, brand creation, digital marketing, global communications, data engagement, sport science and orthopedic sports medicine.

How have you seen your Lean In group empower women to close the gender gap?

The gender gap resonates with women on many levels; our members experience issues with conflict-resolution, strategic planning and negotiation strategies that help them reach their personal definition of professional happiness. Our Lean In group has ultimately given women of all professional backgrounds a safe place to practice their individually needed skills that bring them closer to this happiness. Like you would never expect an athlete to perform well without practice nor accept medical guidance from a clinician that didn't practice treatment during residencies, we believe negotiation, conflict resolution, and strategic planning skills all require the same level of disciplined practice. Many of our members have completely transformed their confidence levels in these skills. As a result, they have been empowered to close the gender gap by professional promotions, salary negotiations, starting businesses, or owning their family's definition of work-life balance.

On a day-to-day basis, how does the gender gap affect women in the workplace?

The gender gap is far from just being a woman's problem. It is often felt rather than overtly seen and occurs on a daily basis in small instances that may seem easy to overlook. Women need to present themselves as a skilled professional with the end goal of fulfilling a job successfully and be comfortable re-directing conversations that may be slipping towards their personality rather than accomplishments.

Along the same line, men need to be taught similar language skills that value women for their skills and not allow personal opinions impact their ability to work together. It's been well documented that women make certain choices to remain "nice" or "likable" but it's quite common for women to be passively put "back in their place" for acting "aggressive" when they are really voicing their worth and expectations. Both men and women need more evolved personal reflections on how to better communicate with each other to avoid these traps that have been engrained in us from generations gone by.

What are the long-term implications?

Particularly in America, parental leave is grossly underdeveloped when compared to other countries. While becoming a parent is a deeply personal decision, the fact that our country is so behind in mandating paid parental leave - both maternal and paternal - we are greatly deterring very talented women from choosing or staying in careers that lead to powerful positions. I see more resolution to gender gap issues in the future because there is a growing movement of women committed to supporting the success of each other rather than continuing a culture of female hostility and competition.

How can women work to close the gender gap in their own lives?

Men and women both need to spend more time identifying what makes them happy in their own lives. This should be a continual process rather than a stagnant declaration. Once we are able to identify our individual idea of happiness we can tailor our energy and efforts for closing the gender gap. Education, support, and resources are the key to closing the gap on a macro level. Our Lean In group is the local embodiment that will keep our members accountable to closing the gender gap in their own lives.

Can you speak to the importance of negotiation when it comes to being a female professional?

Negotiation is the ultimate lifelong verbal sport. Somehow "negotiation" has become a scary word to women particularly, in my opinion, because there is a strong possibility that one party may become aggressive in order to achieve their argument. This circles back to women needing communicative skills and strategies for negotiations but also the practice arena so they can see all possibilities during real world negotiations. The ability to negotiate is the key to shaping your professional and personal life into your version of success, but it also empowers you to be a better manager or boss.

If I, as an entrepreneur, can't negotiate with venture capitalists, then I can't get money to fund my business. If I can't negotiate with an employee then I may lose talent and be faced with turnover costs. If I can't manage a negotiation with an unhappy customer, I may lose their business as well as the business stemming from their review to their personal network. Negotiation is a trainable skill not something women should avoid.

Related Resources

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

View the most relevant programs for your interests and compare them by tuition, acceptance rate, and other factors important to you.