Portrait of a business woman in an office. Crossed arms

Cait Harrison
Friday, July 22, 2016

It’s widely known that U.S. women generally earn less money in the workplace than their male counterparts. This can vary by industry and geographic location, of course, but women are paid an average of 79 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Although progress has been made to change this over the years, it has been slow. If it continues at the current rate, it will take 43 years — until 2059 — to close the pay gap, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

So who’s to blame?

A new paper from the Economic Policy Institute faults societal norms that push women toward lower-paying jobs throughout their careers. It argues that only a third of the pay gap can be attributed to a woman’s chosen profession, as she is set on an educational path from an early age that leads to lower-paying jobs.

“By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, expectations set by those who raised her, hiring practices of firms and widespread norms and expectations about work-family balance held by employers, co-workers and society,” co-authors Jessica Schieder and Elise Gould write in the report.

The report also says longer hours required by the highest-paid occupations make it difficult for women to succeed, since women take on the majority of family duties. As a result, women may shy away from pursuing these roles.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, says Dana White, founder and CEO of 1055 Grady, a leadership and strategic communications firm, and author of “Leader Designed: Become the Leader You Were Made to Be.”

White acknowledged that most women have always faced a glass ceiling, partly due to choosing female-dominated professions as well as shouldering family and child-rearing responsibilities. But she says a new mindset is the first step to turning your career up a notch.

She encourages women to go after they want, thinking of their jobs and compensation in terms of what they want rather than simply what they believe is available to them. “That’s how men think,” said White, who has spent much of her career working in male-dominated professions.

Additionally, despite sexism that persists in the workplace even today, men shouldn’t be seen as the enemy.

“Men in the workplace can be your best mentor,” White said. “What I’ve learned from men is, you make a mistake, you move on.”

White’s top advice? Learn to say no: “No is your option, too. Saying no also tells people what you’re worth. And the only person who sets your value is you.”

White discovered this after serving as a center director at the Pentagon, when she was offered a fellowship at a prominent U.S. newspaper.

“I was an adult. I owned a home, I had a job,” she said. “I was beyond fellowships. I said no, and guess what they did? Came back and offered me a job.”

It’s not about being cocky or arrogant, she says, but simply knowing your value, and letting current or potential employers know that.

“It’s just saying, this is what I want, and if you don’t give it to me, someone else will,” she said. “If you don’t put it out there, it’s never going to be an option.”