The Gender Pay Gap: 3 Steps to Work Toward Workplace Parity

UPDATED: March 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: January 31, 2024
figurines of a man and a woman on top of a stack of pennies to represent the gender pay gap

Women make 84% of what their male counterparts are making on average. For years, we’ve been told the reason the gender pay gap exists is that women don’t negotiate or advocate for themselves. This narrative has been a constant hum over the course of my career, which is odd considering nearly every raise and promotion I’ve ever received has come as a result of my own asking. 

Why do companies and managers insist on making compensation dependent on someone’s self-confidence level or negotiating skills when, in most cases, neither has anything to do with their job and job performance? 

Gender pay gap misconceptions

The idea that “women don’t ask” for more is simply not true. In fact, a recent UC-Berkeley study found that women are negotiating for raises and promotions more than men — they’re just not always getting what they ask for. The survey found 64% of women reported negotiating for a better offer (compared to 59% of male respondents), but had a 3% higher failure rate than the men who asked. 

What’s worse, the existing pay gap increases over the course of women’s careers. Even when women are a decade into their careers and heading into mid- to senior-level management positions, they earn just 63% of what men make in the same roles. The situation is even more dire for women of color, who earn 42% less than men on average. 

The gender pay gap needs more than teaching “self-advocacy” 

I recently gave a keynote speech to a network of women on the significance of self-advocacy. We explored various aspects of asking for what you deserve—from seeking accommodations for family responsibilities to negotiating a raise or promotion. While self-advocacy has its place and its advantages in the workplace, we must challenge the norm that places the burden on women to seek out their worth in the first place.

Women’s representation in the corporate arena reveals a concerning trend. From entry level to the C-suite, we see a staggering 55% drop in female representation, with an even more troubling 73% decline among women of color. These numbers are in no way indicative of women’s abilities but reflect the outdated and biased corporate structures in place. Similarly, a phenomenon called “the broken rung” reveals that the disparity begins early on, with women constituting just 40% of managerial roles in the workforce in 2022. 

This initial drop-off is the catalyst for a downward trend in representation that continues and worsens until it bottoms out in the C-suite. 

The recent pandemic-induced shift to remote work has only heightened these disparities. While work-from-home culture can be a benefit, it also isolates young professionals at home and denies them the access and face time that used to enable junior employees in the office to learn from their surroundings, network with leaders and ultimately prove themselves in the workplace.

The call for systemic change in the workplace

For businesses to truly bridge the gender pay gap, systemic change is non-negotiable. This involves a few key steps, including:

1. Set clear progression metrics

Beyond basic oversight, managers should be mentors who are responsible for fostering their employees’ professional growth. This requires understanding their aspirations, strengths and weaknesses so they can transform these insights into actionable growth strategies. 

Providing well-defined guidelines on what capabilities are needed for each role creates a system where people understand how to reach a promotion.

2. Redefining raises and promotions

The current corporate norm heavily encourages self-advocacy when it comes to promotions or pay hikes. This bias toward a culture of asking inevitably favors those conditioned to ask—which is statistically most likely to be white men. 

Employee assessments need to become much less subjective by ensuring everyone has a tangible, documented path toward their goals—and managers must be assessed and held accountable based on their abilities to grow employees through this system.

3. Training with a focus on growth

Training programs should emphasize a manager’s role in nurturing their team members, ensuring a balanced focus between work output and employee development. If implemented correctly, this system should encourage managers to advocate for their employees’ growth based on their performance and empower these managers to grant promotions and raises to high-performing employees. 

Ultimately, these changes would empower leaders to promote and retain the best performers, not just the employees who are the most outspoken or the most likely to ask.

Redefining a culture of self-advocacy

The journey to achieving true gender parity in the corporate sphere extends beyond hiring practices or self-advocacy initiatives. We must address the existing biases and imbalances that persist in everyday work experiences. 

Let us redefine corporate culture, ensuring no employee, regardless of gender or background, is ever penalized for simply not asking. Such systemic change will not only boost retention and productivity, but will also significantly contribute to closing the enduring gender pay gap in the workplace.