NEW YORK (MainStreet) Women have nearly achieved pay parity with men as the gap on hourly wages has shrunk, but obstacles remain to narrow it even further.
The current pay gap for hourly workers is now 16 cents, compared to 36 cents from 1980. While women have made advancements as they progress in their career paths, their earnings compared to men start to decline even if they began on an equal footing.
Millennial women are marking the beginning of their careers at nearly pay equality with men, but maintaining a narrow gap is surprisingly unpredictable, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 2,002 adults, including 810 Millennials (adults ages 18 to 32).
While women who entered the workforce since 1980 have made headway in closing the pay gap, various issues still play a factor in why the pay is still not equal and remains an issue.
Barriers still persist for Millennial women despite the fact that they have more education than their foremothers and Millennial men. A majority of them believe they will be paid less than their male counterparts even if they have the same job and believe it remains more difficult to reach the executive level especially if they choose to be mothers.
Despite the great strides that have occurred for women advancing their careers, 75% of Millennial women said the U.S. needs to work on instilling additional changes to reach gender equality while only 57% of Millennial men believe the same, Pew Research found in a recent survey. The good news is that only 15% of young women said they have experienced discrimination at the workplace because of their gender. Evening the playing field remains a problem and is disheartening, said Nancy Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel for CBIZ, a business services provider.
"Things have not improved and there is still a gap," she said. "The problem is that we are still talking about the same problems from several decades ago and we are not solving them."
While women ages 25 to 34 are the first group in recent history to begin their careers with salaries nearly equal to their male counterparts or 93%, the parity dissipates during their career when additional responsibilities arise, according to the Pew Research analysis from census data.
Women now account for 47% of the work force in 2012, an increase from 43% in 1980 while the number of men employed have declined from 78% in 1980 to 70% in 2012.
The increase in salaries and number of employed women are largely due to their educational gains with 38% of older Millennial women or those aged 25 to 32 who received a bachelor's degree compared to 31% of men. Even with the younger Millennial women or those who are 18 to 24 years old, 45% of women are enrolled in a college or university while there are 38% of men in 2012, the research shows.
More women are entering occupations requiring higher skills which result in higher salaries, but the gap persists.
Women should not avoid working in technology because they tend to be male dominated, said Adena DeMonte, 30, director of marketing of Badgeville, a Redwood City, CA enterprise software application company.
"Don't be afraid to explore," she said. "It is not just guys sitting in a room coding anymore. There are a lot of opportunities. It is a lot of fun, too."
While great strides have been taken at technology companies, a gap exists and the field needs more women in the workforce, even those who choose non- technical roles, DeMonte said.
"Even though it is slowly shrinking, I don't think it is shrinking enough," she said. "I would like to see more women in technology. It is getting better as more women get into more high paying jobs. It is changing, but it is going to take time."
Another factor which affects the pay disparity is that fewer women ask for a raise or promotion during their careers than men. The survey found that only 43% of women have sought an advancement or increase in salary compared to 51% of men. Millennials are faring better with 42% of women compared to 48% of men doing so. The gap is wider with Generation X, ages 33 to 48, where 59% of men stating they worked to advance their career in this manner versus 47% of women.
Reaching parity remains less of a challenge for women who have risen to managerial positions. In 2012, 15% of women work in managerial and administrative jobs compared to 17% of men, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In 1980, women were largely absent from these occupations with only 7% in those roles compared to 17% of men.
Males tend to be more confident and stress their value and worth at a company while many women lack assertiveness in asking for a raise, DeMonte said.
"Women have a harder time," she said. "We need to learn to build confidence and how to negotiate with men."
Fewer women said they want to be a boss or are currently serving as one with only 44% expressing this sentiment compared to 60% of men.
Women should be taught in college how to negotiate more for what they are seeking, especially as they advance in their careers to more senior positions, DeMonte said. Developing relationships with strong female and male mentors is crucial to a successful career.
Companies need to set different expectations in how they measure the performance of employees such as the option to work from home so that true gender equality can be attained, said Mellard.
"Companies haven't gone to core changes that need to be made," she said. "There needs to be a significant paradigm change to focus on changes that would reward and retain women so they can integrate their personal lives."
--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet