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The Gender Pay Gap: It Affects us All

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"There's probably no other sport, and very few professions in this world, where a woman can earn as much as a man," tennis pro John McEnroe, three-time men's Wimbledon champion, asserted in 2007. The All England club in London took a bold and unprecedented step offering men and women equal championship earnings. "It would be setting an example to the rest of society in general to have equal prize money," McEnroe continued amid the predicted controversy to change the status quo.

Still in 2013, it's frustrating to note that the workplace has not yet followed suit. Gender discrimination tarnishes us all. If you're a woman, whether in the public or private sector, you are likely to be paid less than your male counterpart. Women's access to higher education has eased this pay disparity somewhat, but the Center for American Progress insists that women would need a doctoral degree to earn the same as men with a bachelor's degree.

Aside from fairness issues, gender pay discrimination is not economically healthy because companies are better off when they have more women in management roles. CNBC quotes a 2011 survey by Catalyst showing that company boards made up of 19 to 44 percent women achieved 26 percent more return on invested capital than those firms with no women board members. It also makes it difficult to recruit women to these high responsibility positions when they know they'll be paid less than their male counterparts.

This data supports the Daily Mail's view that "The economy is losing billions of pounds because of gender segregation," compounded by the dishonorable fact that "high-flying women in Britain are paid nearly 10 percent less than men doing exactly the same job." The figures speak for themselves. Daily Kos reports that college-educated women are on average making $7,600 less a year than their male counterparts. Not because they choose fields that are less lucrative, or have family commitments, but simply because they are female. After removing all other biases, neither education, nor occupational prestige, nor career success seems to protect women from the gender wage gap. Decades after the 1963 Equal Pay Act was passed, it's shameful to read headlines in Forbes that say "there is no denying that women get paid less for doing the same jobs as men."
"When I was promoted from head of operations to managing director," Sarah, one of my clients shared, "I replaced a male MD who was fired for gross incompetence." She sighed. "You're not going to believe this, but they offered me a lower salary than the one he was making. The male chair of the board wouldn't give in to my request for equal pay. I wanted the job badly, so I accepted their terms. A year later, during an industry pay survey, I found out that I'm still getting less than my male counterparts even though my qualifications and work experiences are similar."

The gender pay gap exists even among children, with boys paid more pocket money than girls for doing household chores. Research conducted in Australia confirmed that boys earned 6.6 percent more pocket money than girls. Gai McGrath, Westpac's general manager of retail banking, who initiated the study, confirmed that paying girls less pocket money than boys "sends a powerful message that girl's and women's work isn't as valuable as that of boy's." If wage discrimination starts at home how does it affect adult wages? Are girls, and then women, reluctant to "Lean In" and negotiate for higher pay?

The VP for Marketing in a global technology organization explained that this gender discrimination continues because of the secrecy that fills the corridors of power. "Few people know what anyone else is earning at senior levels," he said. "So I haven't a clue as to whether my female colleagues earn less or more than me. It has to do with our stock options and bonus plans," he added. "We don't talk about that with our colleagues."

Last year, Credit Suisse confirmed the impact of gender diversity in corporate management on performance. Over the past six years, companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price performance. On four additional financial dimensions: return on equity (ROI), gearing (net debt to equity), price/book value (P/BV) and average growth, companies with more women on their boards outperformed their rivals.

Yet, the significance of gender pay inequity has yet to compel the business world to change, despite the economic imperative. Parity is not only a "women's" issue. It affects us all. It makes no sense to penalize women when the benefit of their leadership to organizations and the economy are clear. Let's follow the footsteps of Billie Jean King, who fought doggedly for equal prize money for women tennis players around the world. If we want a strong economy, we must act now to ensure that gender discrimination becomes an injustice of the past.

Susan Bloch is a global leadership coach and author at KRW International. This is part of her series of blogs on women and business.