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How to Close the Gender Wage Gap

Did you know that women still make only 79 cents to men’s dollar—and that this income differential has barely budged in the last decade? At the current rate of change, it will be more than 100 years before this gap closes.

This gap used to largely be due to a difference in education and work experience—men had more of both. But as women are now surpassing men in their acquisition of education and have increased their labor force participation and job experience, research shows that this cause no longer holds.

In a brilliant analysis of gender wage gaps across professions, Harvard Economist Claudia Goldin demonstrates that employers and industries that value long hours and overwork are currently driving the male-female income difference:

“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not…disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.”

This means that our limiting beliefs about work and workers — that productivity and high quality work comes from working long hours — are creating the “motherhood penalty” that working moms clearly pay.

Cornell sociologists recently laid bare this motherhood penalty by sending out identical resumes that sneakily identified some job candidates as parents. The employers receiving the resumes were less likely to invite mothers for interviews than they were men and childless women.

And as if that wasn’t horrible enough, they also rated mothers as less competent, less committed, less promotable, and less fit for management. Also, they recommended lower starting salaries for them. (The resumes were identical, remember.)

WHY OH WHY, you ask?

It’s the myth of the ideal worker, AGAIN! The researchers believe that the conflict between the stereotype of the “Ideal Mother” — someone who is utterly devoted to her family, a la the 1950s housewife — conflicts with the myth of the Ideal Worker. They write: “this study suggests that cultural beliefs about the tension between the motherhood and ‘ideal worker’ roles may play a part in reproducing this pattern of inequality.” Ideal mothers cannot also be ideal workers, which leads us, usually unconsciously, to believe that they will be less competent, less committed, less promotable, etc.

So finding flow—truly fulfilling our potential for productivity without working long hours or risking burnout—has the potential to correct some of the influential biases that are keeping our society unequal.

This isn’t just a chick problem, people. Unless you are a guy without a mother, sister, wife, girlfriend, female bestie, or daughter, I’m going to assume you care about this social ill just because you care about your people. But I also feel the need to point out that inequality in the workplace hurts everyone. As men become increasingly involved with their children, the faulty belief that having a life and responsibilities outside of work reduces competency, commitment, and productivity is going to hurt them, too. Obviously.

This post is from the “Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. Want to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!