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Does Your Employer Pay Women Less?

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kim Orr
Iowa woman on average make 79 percent of what men make. Pay disparities are generally even worse for women of color and Latinas.

Tuesday is National Equal Pay Day, a symbolic holiday marking when women’s earnings catch up to what men were paid the year before. While the gender pay gap persists in Iowa and across the country, there are steps Iowa businesses can take to counteract persistent wage disparities.

According to a 2018 analysis by the American Association of University Women or AAUW, women in Iowa make on average 79 percent of what their male colleagues do, lagging just behind the national average of 80 percent.State numbers show the median income for a woman working full-time year round is $40,639, while the median income for men in Iowa is $51,059.

The pay disparities are generally even worse for women of color and Latinas. National figures show Asian American woman make 85 cents on the dollar, while African American women make 61 cents, and Latina women are paid 53 cents.

University of Iowa business professor Beth Livingston specializes in human resources management and how businesses can balance personal and family needs with work responsibilities. She encourages employers in Iowa to proactively review their policies and payscales to look for disparities.

“Most of these companies, if they have any sort of HR system at all, have their employees, their employees sex and how much they make, including bonuses and contingent pay. So you can run that data,” she said.

Livingston calls gender discrimination "insidious", saying disparities can persist even among well-meaning companies. If a woman is underpaid at one position, that disparity can follow her and compound from job to job if employers rely on inequal pay as a starting point in negotiations. Livingston said employers should be purposeful about setting pay according to specific, quantifiable perfomance metrics, and not an "it factor" that could be swayed by bias.

“Go in, look at your numbers. Be aware ahead of time if you have gaps within job level, across job level," she said. "Look at your pay bands. Determine who’s making more money and determine whether your compensation system is really set up to reward the things you want to reward.”

Livingston said paying women and men equally makes for a better, fairer workforce, and can also insulate employers from potential legal challenges. 

The burden of being paid less for the same work can be even worse for single, female head of households. According to state numbers, more than 107,000 Iowa families are led by single women, a number that has increased more than 100 percent since 1970.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter