Electing a woman as president of the United States would have undoubtedly been a poignant victory. For some, signifying a new era of impartiality around gender roles in U.S. leadership and an inviolable promise to end gaping disparities women continue to face in the workplace.
Unfortunately, gender parity couldn’t be further from a realistic goal — at least anytime soon.
The annual Global Gender Gap report published by the World Economic Forum found inequality in wages earned and upward mobility for women in the workplace is getting progressively worse. At the rate in which women are being promoted or receiving equal compensation as their male colleagues, the economic gap won’t close until 2186. The imbalance between men and women is currently larger than any time since the recession in 2008.
This is a discouraging step backwards as the prior report forecasted an improvement by 2133. Despite Hillary’s ascension as the Democratic party’s presidential candidate, and the headway women have made in the corporate stratosphere, even at c-suite levels, these latest numbers are a distinct testament that the glass ceiling is merely being grazed.
Indeed, there have been significant strides in gender equity across the globe. Opening the door to more opportunities for women to work in predominately male-dominated industries dismantled a quota that once limited the amount job openings for women to pursue. Yet, those advancements still aren’t enough to amend the prolonged gender pay gap.
Several weeks ago, en masse, thousands of women in Iceland walked off the job to protest the dispiriting progress in pay equity. Even though the country is ranked as the world’s leader in pay equity, the demonstration, organized by women’s-rights organizations and labor unions in the country, goal is not only to bring awareness to its 14 percent wage gap, but to prompt nations like the United States, where women get paid 80 cents for every man’s dollar to take action.
No matter the job, women in nearly every occupation are affected by the wage gap. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women wind up staying in the labor force longer to supplement income from unequal wages. The timeline for retirement is more drawn-out for women who are overrepresented in low-wage jobs as well as those who’ve taken extended time off for maternity leave.
The persistent gender pay gap has been strongly correlated to economic security and unquestionably jeopardizes a woman’s retirement income. These include Social Security benefits as well as pension distributions. Lower earnings also affect a women’s ability to contribute to employer‐sponsored retirement plans. For some, the reality of earning less translates into less disposable income to devote to retirement.
With income that is only a fraction of men’s, women 65 and older are more likely to live in poverty and depend on Social Security and financial assistance to make ends meet according to a report conducted by the United States Joint Economic Committee.
In the financial advisory sector, firms have catered to men, as they were the family patriarch and breadwinners. But as the head of the household role shifts to women, so does the money management. And unfortunately, the financial services industry has had difficulty reaching women. One reason may be the shortage of women entering advisory roles at financial management firms. Because women feel alienated by the industry, there can exist a lack of trust and an unwillingness to talk about their financial future with professionals. Thus causing them to be ill prepared and not as investment savvy as men when planning for their future.
Even as more women become the primary income earner, it has not equated to women earning the same salary as men doing equivalent jobs. Today, women represent more than 51 percent of the workforce and are starting businesses at twice the rate of men.
While there have been dynamic shifts in economic opportunity, the playing field remains unleveled. More progress needs to be made so women can edge closer to getting equitable pay. There are, however, little things we can all do to work towards closing the wage gap. Here are some steps to take:
- Research salaries within your industry using Glassdoor.com or Indeed.com in preparation for you next job opportunity.
- Put together your professional package to share when asking for your desired salary or increase. Then keep it updated based on your expanding skill set.
- Always negotiate your salary even in an entry-level position. Then, don’t forget to negotiate during annual increases or when offered a raise.
- Determine the amount you need to live, save and invest and ask for 10% higher than that amount during salary negotiations. The minimum amount you should take is based off the number you determined you needed to live, save and invest.
- Role play your conversation with trusted colleagues or mentors to become comfortable asking for your desired salary.
- Be willing to walk away from an opportunity if you feel you will be undervalued.
While a women in the Oval Office would have been a big step forward, it would not have been the sole problem solver. It’ll take concerted effort from business and world leaders to reach that milestone, hopefully much sooner than 170 years from now.
Zaneilia Harris, CFP, is president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management, which describes itself as “a boutique financial advisory firm focused on educating and supporting professional women and the community to build and transfer wealth.”