Julia Bear, assistant professor at Stony Brook University's College of...

Julia Bear, assistant professor at Stony Brook University's College of Business, seen on March 24, 2017, has published studies on the wage gap between men and women. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Women’s salaries are still playing catch-up to men’s, and Equal Pay Day, which will be observed tomorrow, underscores that wage disparity.

This year the date marks how far women, on average, had to work into 2017 until their wages equaled what men earned in 2016, said the National Committee on Pay Equity, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition that began celebrating the day in 1996.

Last year, on a weekly basis women earned 81.9 cents for every $1 that men were paid, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, also in Washington. That’s a long way from the 59 cents that women earned for every $1 men were paid in 1963, when the federal Equal Pay Act was signed, the pay equity group says.

Even in jobs where women dominate, like registered nurse and librarian, men earn more, Census data show. Nationally, for example, the 2015 annual median pay for male registered nurses was about $69,000, compared with $62,000 for their female counterparts. Male librarians earned a median of about $54,000, compared with $50,000 for their female cohorts. Local data weren’t available.

Changing assumptions

Research conducted last year by a Stony Brook University assistant professor maintains that tackling some less well-known issues could help women close the gap. They involve changing assumptions about a woman’s role in her household, and improving negotiating tactics.

One of the studies co-authored by professor Julia Bear, who teaches in SBU’s College of Business, found that when two equally qualified male and female job candidates were considered, people were more likely to assume the male candidate was the family breadwinner and offered him a significantly higher salary than the female candidate, who was assumed to be in the traditional role of caregiver.

“However, when female job candidates provided explicit information that they are breadwinners, they obtained equal salary offers and were also just as likely to be offered leadership training as compared to men,” she said. “So we should focus on how assumptions about men and women are contributing to the wage gap and not only put the onus on women to ask for higher salaries,” Bear said.

Reframing pay talk

She also said her research shows that women have two ways to mentally “reframe” salary negotiations in order to get what they want.

First, it helps for them to recall three past examples of “assertive behavior” that led them to negotiate more successfully, she said. A second helpful method was to imagine they were negotiating for someone else, like a close friend.

“Engaging in this mental exercise prior to negotiating also led women to negotiate more successfully on their own behalf,” Bear said.

There are many other reasons for the gender wage disparity, experts said. They include differences in education, experience, number of work hours, the years needed for training and outright discrimination.

In fact, the strong leadership skills that help men make salary strides are often perceived in “a negative light” in women, said Jean Lau Chin, a professor of psychology at Adelphi University in Garden City.

“That contributes to women often having to work hard to prove themselves and being evaluated negatively,” Chin said.

Well-paying jobs that have grueling work schedules or require many years of training, like financial analyst or cardiologist, attract fewer women, said John A. Rizzo, a Stony Brook professor of economics and chief economist of the Long Island Association business group. “Women choose occupations that have less income and more flexibility,” he said.

Updating NYS laws

Some states have taken steps to bridge the gap. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has issued two executive orders, one that took effect in January that prohibits state agencies from asking job candidates about their salary history, and a second that takes effect June 1 that requires state contractors to disclose data on gender, race, ethnicity, job title and salary of their employees.

And the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will require employers with at least 100 employees to start providing pay data by gender, race and ethnicity next year.

Women pay a huge price for the wage gap, the pay equity group said. It estimates that over a lifetime, the wage gap will cost the average woman $700,000 to $2 million, which in turn will affect her Social Security and pension benefits.

Fast fact

$700,000 to $2 million

Estimated amount an average woman will lose over her lifetime because of the gender pay gap

Source: National Committee on Pay Equity

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