Recent weeks brought annual observances of International Women’s Day globally and Equal Pay Day in the U.S. These are, or at least should be, not just celebrations of progress where it exists, but also reminders of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and pay equity in the workplace. Of course, these commemorative days beg these questions regarding the state of women in the workplace: Have we really come a long way? And where do we go from here?

The Long Road of Progress

“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” was an advertising slogan for Virginia Slims cigarettes that sought to tap into the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s. Created by a man, the campaign was launched in 1968 – some five years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted in the U.S. Other laws that have helped change the challenging course of women in the workforce include the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Each of these regulatory efforts have targeted gender and/or minority-based inequities in the workplace. And yet, as much as 85 years later, even with women making up nearly half the workforce, they continue to experience sexual harassment, gender discrimination, a gender pay gap, and a disproportionately small number of women in corporate leadership.

The Current State of Progress – Or Lack, Thereof

Recent data from Forbes shine a revealing light on the state of the women in the workplace today. For example, women mustwork an extra 42 days each year to earn what a man makes in a normal 365-day cycle. According to Forbes Advisor, women in 2022, on average, earn 17% less than men. Age factors into the disparity, too; starting at age 24, women make 11% less than men, a gap that grows to 24% by age 54. It’s even worse for women of color who, in rural areas, make just 56 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. For women with the same job title, seniority level, and hours worked as men, a gender gap of 11% still exists in terms of take-home pay. Even education level doesn’t equalize things; many women with advanced degrees still earn less than men with no advanced degree.

Are We at Least Moving in the Right Direction?

In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was enacted, women made 59 cents for each dollar earned by a man. In 2010, that rate was 77 cents per dollar. And now, in 2023, we are at 82 cents per dollar. Undeniably, this is progress – albeit over a 60-year arc.

Will we ever achieve gender pay equity? Since the passing of the Equal Pay Act, the march toward pay parity between women and men has moved only 23 cents with 18 cents on the dollar still to go. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research projects that gender pay equity will finally be reached in the year 2059 – nearly a century after the Equal Pay Act become law.

What Factors Contribute to the Remaining Gap Levels?

There are real (if frustrating) reasons why progress remains slow. For example, women lose ground due to leaving the workforce for childbirth and child rearing. Also, employers tend to rely on hamstrung salary histories rather than current fair market job values. What’s more, women represent only 8.8% of Fortune 500 company leaders, per Forbes, and even then, those leaders earn just 95 cents on the dollar compared to earnings of men in comparable roles. 

And because the wage gap starts early with entry level positions – where the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows a gap of 18.4% between the average annual salaries earned by women and men – a 20-year-old woman starting full-time work will lose $407,760 over a 40-year career compared to a male counterpart. 

There Is a Bright Side!

Women do enjoy pay advantages in certain occupations. For example, per Forbes, women earn 3% more than men as compliance officers and vocational nurses; as well as 2% more as wholesale and retail buyers. And current dollar-for-dollar pay equity has been achieved for teaching assistants. Beyond these bright spots, jobs with the smallest remaining gender pay gap include physical and social science jobs as well as physical therapy positions where women earn 2% less than men.

On the flip side, however, enormous pay gaps persist for real estate brokers (where men earn 60% more than women) and positions in the legal field, where men earn 59% more than women.

How Can the Gap Be Closed – Starting Today?

To attract and retain top talent, company management, boards, legislators, and leaders everywhere need to make pay equity a priority – for all. A great way for individual companies to start is to conduct a pay discrimination analysis in conjunction with a labor law attorney and a compensation professional. This will identify gaps in equitable compensation where they exist and help chart a path to eliminate them. Taking this measure will help accelerate the achievement of pay equity – at long last!

Cassandra Faurote is the CEO of Total Reward Solutions, a compensation consulting firm, and author of Compensation Sense 101: Common Sense Answers to Your Questions About Employee Compensation and Total Rewards. Reach her at

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