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Let’s Talk About the Gender Wage Gap in Chicago

by Diane Klementowich on May 6, 2019 in Chicago, MindSpring News


Women make less money in the workplace than men do. It’s the conclusion of years of studies about the gender wage gap, and despite fluctuations in the exact figures, the central finding remains the same.


In Illinois, 2065 is the projected “end date” when the gender wage gap in Chicago and rest of the state will close. To get there, many organizations and legislators are actively taking steps towards ending the disparity. Illinois has already taken initiatives to eliminate wage inequality, most recently with Mayor Rahm Emanuel signing an executive order prohibiting city departments from asking job applicants for their salary history information.


But 2065 is more than forty-five years away! Why is the gender pay disparity still so prevalent? We take a look at the various factors at play, as well as what can be done to cultivate an equal landscape, specifically in the Chicagoland region.


The State of Pay Disparity in 2019

The year is 1960. More women are entering the workforce than ever before against a backdrop of the continuing civil rights movement and anti-war protests. But working alongside their male counterparts fails to make them equals in American society – they are still banned from Ivy League schools, forced to cosign with their husbands on credit cards, and kept from serving on juries. And despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women are earning an average of less than 60 cents for every $1 earned by men, with minority women making even less.


Today, almost sixty years later, in spite of obvious societal progress, the average woman in Illinois still only earns $43,149 annually compared to her male counterpart making $55,585, an earnings ratio of 78% and ranking 38th in the nation.


Over the course of their career, women wind up earning 20% less than men – despite typically having higher levels of education. Additionally, women in higher-paid fields experience a more dramatic gap in wages, with a female financial manager bringing in $65,237 annually while her male colleague makes $100,575. Regardless of industry, even with comparable qualifications, the disparity persists.



Root Causes of the Gender Pay Gap

Much of the inequality has been explained by measurable elements, such as education or work experience, but the largest contributors to the disparity are those that are difficult, at times impossible, to measure.


For one, gender discrimination is prevalent in today’s workforce with about 42% of working women claiming that they’ve experienced this discrimination at work, compared to roughly 22% of men. While many naturally assume that discrimination is the main culprit behind the gender pay gap, in reality it pales in comparison to other contributing factors.


There’s a compelling case that the gender wage gap is actually a penalty for bearing children. Early in their careers, single men and women without children have a significantly smaller pay gap on average. During this time, women’s wages per hour are equal to, or even slightly higher than, men’s wages. Once women get married or have children, this disparity increases drastically – in both cases, men earn more in this stage of their careers, regardless of their marital or parental status. Childless women’s salaries tend to remain quite similar to their male counterparts’ income, resulting in vastly different earnings trajectories for women with children and those who choose not to become mothers. To add fuel to the fire, Illinois is ranked as the 8th most expensive state for child care, costing an average of $12,964 per child annually. To compare, that’s 3.5% more per year than the cost of in-state college tuition and 19.6% more than average rent. Not only are women being penalized for starting a family, they’re paying outrageous amounts in order to even stay in their lesser-paid roles.



Overall, whether for maternity leave or otherwise, the penalty for taking time out of the labor force for American women is substantial and only worsening with time. Women who took just one year off during their career netted earnings 39% lower than those who worked consistently during the same time period. Also, while women have increased their presence in higher-paying jobs traditionally dominated by men, they continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying positions, which may also be contributing to the gender pay disparity.


Where Do We Go From Here?

77% of women and 63% of men say that our country needs to continue making changes to give all employees equality, according to a Pew Research Center survey. It’s time to ensure that your organization is compensating your employees fairly, embracing their diversity instead of penalizing them for it.


Conducting a pay audit is essential, analyzing compensation by gender so that you can see and address any pay gaps. Ensuring that hiring and promotions standards are fair is the next step – many organizations inadvertently implement systemic procedures that consistently impede the growth and success of their female employees. Furthermore, see how you stack up against the mere 4% of U.S. companies that require unconscious bias training for employees involved in reviews, and 29% that set gender targets for external hiring.


Find out what opportunities there are to get involved with local initiatives working to bring attention to pay disparity and support those impacted by the pay gap. Earlier this year the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago made headlines by lowering its admission prices for anyone who believes the gender pay gap has negatively impacted their earning potential. While the 2019 event was held in March, consider joining the hundreds of other Chicago area organizations that take part in Equal Pay Day annually. This nationally recognized movement raises awareness about pay equality and provides a platform for collaborating with like-minded companies.


Overcoming the Gender Pay Gap in Chicago

Even when attempting to control a host of factors, from age to experience to education, women consistently earn a lower income than their male counterparts, and Chicago is no exception. Today, women are outpacing men in college completion and their labor force participation continues to increase, creating more value to employers than ever before. The pay disparity is nuanced and complicated, but as more and more individuals and organizations advocate for women’s equality, there’s hope for change in Chicago’s future.


MindSpring is committed to providing equal opportunities to all. Whether you’re a business or job seeker, if you’re interested in partnering with an organization working to close the gender pay gap, reach out to us today.


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