WashU Expert: No quick fix to shortening gender pay gap

President Barack Obama recently announced new rules aimed at encouraging companies to provide salary information by workers’ race, gender and ethnicity.

While obtaining good data is a necessary step in helping to shrink the gender pay gap, it will only be a starting point, said an expert on corporate governance and women’s leadership at Washington University in St. Louis.

Hillary Sale
Hillary Sale

“One of the things we’ve lacked when researching the gender pay gap is hard data,” said Hillary Sale, the Walter D. Coles Professor of Law in the School of Law and professor of management at Olin Business School.

“Getting good disclosures of actual figures is essential to making progress,” Sale said. “But more importantly, we need to push STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and business education for girls and make that a key part of an ongoing strategy to equalize gender pay.”

According to recent White House data, American women make on average 79 cents for every dollar their male counterparts take in.

Starting in the 1970s, Sale said, women’s pay began catching up to men’s. But it has stalled since 2001.

“Women are not gaining anymore,” she said. “One of the reasons is that they are underrepresented in the fields where higher wages exist, like STEM, or even in other areas including mining, logging and utilities. A larger percentage of women are in jobs with lower wages to begin with, such as teaching and health care.”

Though, Sale pointed out, the pay gap does not disappear when women and men are doing the exact same job.

“I really see it as a long-term STEM issue,” she said. “Although women are earning around 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in America, they are only earning around 30 percent of the STEM bachelor’s degrees. And that is where the higher paying jobs are.”

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