Will 2020’s Remote Work Revolution Widen the Pay Gap, or Close it for Good?

Written by Guest Writer Anjali Patel

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

I have a confession. I get annoyed when people forget holidays, especially those that fall on the same day every year. After decades on Earth, how do some people still forget when Independence Day or Halloween is approaching?

I’m a little more tolerant of holidays that fluctuate every year. Take Equal Pay Day, which was on March 31 in 2020. You’d be forgiven for not commemorating the day because it’s not exactly a cause for celebration. Equal Pay Day marks how many extra days women have to work to earn what men earned in the previous year. For 2020, March 31 marked the day women’s paychecks would finally catch up with the men’s 2019 wages.

When we compare men’s and women’s wages, it’s important to note that there are two

types of wage gaps: the uncontrolled wage gap and the controlled wage gap.

The controlled wage gap controls every factor imaginable: education, industry, job title, city, etc. One would think that pay would be equal here, in this day and age, but it isn’t. The controlled pay gap varies between 94 and 98 cents on the dollar, which means that someone named Kristy will make 94-98 cents while a man named Kris with the same credentials and years of service will get $1.00 for the same work.

An uncontrolled wage gap compares all working women to all working men. The uncontrolled gender pay gap is 81 cents on the dollar, depending on the state. The uncontrolled gap doesn’t control for things like job level or experiences.

Let’s get a little more specific about the gap. Women in America comprise nearly half of the entry-level workforce but comprise only a fifth of the lucrative C-suite. Men are promoted at a rate much higher than women. Why is this? One (misguided) explanation for the wage gap is that women are less ambitious: they may lack passion or initiative to ask for raises. They may choose to press the brakes on their careers to take care of children or aging parents. It’s their choice, and their fault.

But it’s not so simple. Women don’t lack skill, and they don’t lack ambition. They are just aren’t paid fairly for it. Want proof? Keep reading.

Bias in Promotions

For every 100 men promoted, only 72 women are promoted, regardless of similarities in performance and experience. By mid-career, men are 70% more likely than women to be executives. What biases—explicit or implicit—may be driving this difference?

Rachel Thomas, co-founder of global women community Lean In, discusses a concept called performance bias, “a belief that men are slightly more capable or competent than they are, and that women are slightly less capable and competent than they are — it’s so pervasive that it impacts our decision-making.” Lean In uses the phrase “broken rung” to describe the problem of dismissing qualified women for management roles. Put simply, there’s no shortage of qualified women. There’s a shortage of fair opportunities.

Bias in Career Choices and Hiring

When analyzing the gender pay gap, it’s notable that women and men often end up in different career paths, but why? Are men simply better at certain higher-paying professions, as proclaimed by Google Software Engineer James Damore? In the summer of 2017, Damore perceived too much gender diversity. In the months prior, he had been growing increasingly upset over the way Google was seeking to increase the number of minority and women employees, which Damore considered reverse discrimination. “It was wrong for Google to be pursuing diversity because men are naturally better with computers,” Damore wrote in a ten-page memo. His report went viral, and Google fired him.

But wait. Can biological brain differences between the genders explain the gender gap in fields like engineering, science, and math? Nope. This question has been asked and answered countless times. Studies repeatedly show that men and women are far more alike than they are different.

There are no “hard wired” differences between the genders. The differences come in from our own misguided notions, like biases against certain genders or a lack of opportunities to foster women from joining particular professions. The problem isn’t our brains. It’s the biased environments we are forced to fight against.

Unlike James Damore, many women will never have to worry about getting fired because they may never be hired in the first place. Endless data shows us that when evaluating identical resumes, employers may be a lot less likely to hire female candidates over identical male candidates. One simple letter in a name (Jon versus Jen) could make a huge difference in a person’s job prospects. Jen may never get a chance to shatter the glass ceiling of an engineering firm because she’ll never step foot inside the building.

The Parenthood Tax

Research by Harvard University’s Claudia Goldin points to an obvious but difficult source of the gender pay gap: women are more likely than men to take time out of their careers to take care of children and ageing parents. They need flexible work schedules to accommodate their disproportionate number of familial obligations, so they often take flexible jobs that pay less with little to no room for promotions. What can companies do to address these issues and give women an equal chance to advance?

Can the global pandemic of 2020 provide us with answers?

Enter the Double-Edged Sword of COVID-19 Remote Work

Picture this: A deadly pandemic causes us to isolate and shelter in our homes. Once taking place in a centralized office, our work is abruptly shifted to our kitchen table, mere feet away from our children’s virtual classrooms (they’re home now too).

Many women, saddled with childcare responsibilities, will have to drop out of the labour force or cut their hours, hurting their future job prospects. The gender pay gap? According to leading economists, the gender pay gap may now widen significantly and take an additional ten years to close back to what it was before the pandemic.

As for the rest of us? We’ve become subjects in the world’s largest social experiment as we all learn to adapt to the “new normal” of remote work.