Payscale Gender Pay Gap Report: Men with Families are Worth More than Women with Families

A few years back economist Heidi Hartmann, President of the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research, reported that if the gender wage gap were eliminated today, the stimulus effect would grow the U.S. economy by at least 3 to 4 percent. To put that in perspective, the $800 billion economic stimulus package that Congress passed in 2009 is estimated to have grown the GDP by less than 1.5 percent overall.

Now, six years forward, Payscale has just released the findings of their Gender Pay Gap Report. Everything seems same-old, same-old to me, but this caught my eye:

  • The controlled and uncontrolled gender pay gap is higher between married men with children and married women with children than any other demographic.

  • The more often a woman tells us that she prioritizes home/family over work, the larger the controlled gender pay gap becomes, even when compared to men with similar characteristics who say they prioritize home/family over work with the same frequency.

The Gender Wage Gap is Personal

Let me make this personal (and the gender wage gap IS personal): Eighteen years ago, I left the workforce to take time off to raise my son. When he was three years old, I took a job as a membership director of a professional association, knowing that my childcare expenses alone would eat up over half my salary. I, like many women, settled for less so I could get “back in the game.”

Once I got a handle on the job and explored past budgets and annual accountings, I discovered I was being paid 32 percent less than my male predecessor. I was aghast, and spent the next six months doing my best to shore up the inequity, but I was so focused on my failure to do advance research on the value of the position, and the maddening injustice of it all, I was blinded about the trickle down economic impact not just for me, but for the organization I worked for.

Looking back, I now see I was focused on my dilemma as a fairness issue, which can lead to all manner of whining and grumbling. I should have tied the inequity to the loss of bottom-line benefits for my organization, but by that time I wasn’t feeling exactly incentivized to go the extra mile and work beyond my role as if I were going somewhere in the company.

Implicit Bias is Still an Ugly Monster

Curiously, my husband, who works as a best boy and grip in film and TV production, was careening forward in his career because he had a family. He repeatedly heard, “Hey, we’ll keep you working, man, gotta get that kid into college.”

I was doing my best to hide the impact of raising a family. My husband was reveling in it.

Keeping it real here, the reality of not having two equally worthy incomes was that I was 32 percent less able to participate in the economy in a meaningful way. I couldn’t buy organic, pay a housekeeper, buy a new car, contribute to charity, or travel to spend time with family as often as I would have liked, if ever. First world problems, yes, but still…

Assume You Will Be Offered Less

Admittedly, my situation is different in that I had access to the data that helped me close my personal wage gap. For many workplaces, salary transparency is not carved into the mission and values statements adorning employee handbooks and boardroom walls—although we now know it is illegal to disallow employees to discuss salary.

So all of us might do ourselves a good turn by assuming we will be offered up to and maybe more than 32 percent less than our male peers, and researching the heck out of the market value of your job, and negotiating. 

I, like many women, preferred to negotiate on behalf of others. Throughout my career, I would go to the mat for a team member or a co-worker, or lobby for someone to be included on a new project or initiative.

But failing to negotiate for ourselves has a substantial emotional impact on our self-worth, and that’s what silences us and diminishes our true power and value in the workplace.

This lower self-esteem makes it less likely that we’ll speak up for ourselves, and that influences our companies’ bottom lines, and our own bottom lines. So our self-worth impacts our net worth.

The “Food Water Shelter” Impact

This disparity also impacts the greater good. When my business partner and I speak at conferences, we often cite the research that by failing to negotiate for our first jobs out of college, we stand to lose up to $1 million dollars over the course of our careers.

When we ask women what they would do with a million dollars, they say they’d like to take care of things like education for their children, travel, or deferred maintenance on their homes or cars. But by far the most common responses I hear have to do with solving global food-water-shelter issues.

For example, a few years ago I presented a negotiation workshop for the Journalism and Women Symposium keynoted by Gloria Steinem and Keesha Gaskins—a group of 230 incredibly hard-working, powerful women journalists. 

Their response to the million-dollar question was solving the global economic issues vis-à-vis freedom and equality for all women. That was easy. This particular group of women is tenaciously advocacy-minded.

I then asked them to answer this question: “Tell me what makes you the person for the job you have…what makes you powerful in the hands of your employer and your audience?” In other words, how do your strengths and contributions map to the goals (and pain) of your organization?

They were quiet for what seemed like an eternity. They were mentally tracking and connecting their daily workplace activities to the value they provided to not only their employer, but to their readers, their communities, their world.

“I’m doggedly persistent and productive.”

“I have specialized knowledge.”

“My Rolodex.”

“My access to power.”

“My sources trust me. I have impeccable integrity.”

“I’m known for writing whistle blower stories.”

And then I asked them how they’ve used that power to increase the size of their paychecks. Those who spoke echoed the same refrain:

“I’ve been told I’m infinitely replaceable by the legions of reporters waiting in line for my job.”

These women journalists told me that the great recession had resulted in more layoffs for women than men (citing journalism as the original “good ol’ boys network”), making them even more fearful about asking for higher pay. But they also acknowledged that their resistance to self-promotion, and being less skilled in negotiation strategies—like framing their strengths and accomplishments as benefits to their employer—were at least equal factors influencing the results of their pay increase requests.

For these women journalists, the most motivating and practical reason for putting the oxygen mask on their personal economic wellbeing was being able to tie it to the reputation and profit of the organizations they worked for.

Why that makes me particularly happy is that the story of the wage gap is now being written more often and more accurately not only as a gender issue, but as a strategic misstep in the wellbeing of all companies and our world.

Circling back to the "mommy salary" issue, the big question is how to negotiate through and past it. During an interview for an executive role in a tech company, a client of mine with a new baby was told by the COO, “We want to help you with your daughter, so don’t worry, we’ll organize your compensation package so you get flexibility.”

Sounds nice on the surface, but she feared that would translate to less money and responded by saying, “No need to do anything special; I’m sure what I would do is pretty much the same kind of thing you've worked in your role.”

I always tell my clients, especially those who are parents pursuing senior roles, that there is no need to ask for flexibility during the hiring process, but to assume it. At the end of day, it’s about results. Numbers. Getting the job done. How you structure your flex and remote work is up to you and ultimately more about how you design your productivity and communicate with your team and with leadership.

Unless you’re working for Yahoo and there’s a ban on remote work, but that’s another story…