The Wage Gap in 2023: Inequality Persists, but Pay Transparency is Catching On

Young women just entering the workforce may not even recognize the name Lilly Ledbetter or know what a debt they owe her.

After all, it’s been 14 years since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first law signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. And that was two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter, a production supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, had no legal recourse because it took her almost 20 years to discover she was being paid less than male counterparts. Before the Fair Pay Act that was named after her, a victim of sex discrimination was required to file suit within six months of the discriminatory act — even though she didn’t know it had happened.

At long last, barriers that keep employees from knowing their true value appear to be coming down. That includes stronger legal protection against sex or race discrimination, as well as the right to inquire about, discuss or disclose your own pay or that of coworkers. 

Another tool in the arsenal for pay fairness is pay transparency. Revealing the salary range of a job opening is now a legal requirement in New York City, California, Washington, Colorado and other jurisdictions.

And more employers are voluntarily including salary information even in jurisdictions where it isn’t required. The job search site Indeed reported that salary information was included in 43.7% of job postings in February, up from 18.4% in February 2020.

Employers hoping to attract recent college graduates need to take note: They want to know whether the pay is worth applying for. In December, Adobe commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 post-secondary students and recent graduates, and 85% said they’re less likely to apply for a job if the company does not disclose the salary range in the job posting. 

Glenda Caton, owner of Caton Consulting LLC of Little Rock, advises businesses on day-to-day human resources issues and compliance, and even acts as the HR department for some small clients. Pay transparency, she predicts, is “just going to become standard.” 

“For so long, we just have not been equitable in our pay practices, and we have to take a long, hard look at that,” she says. “I think pay transparency is going to be a positive thing even if it’s hard.”

Transparent salary structures, Caton says, will serve both sides by taking much of the mystery out of a fundamental part of the hiring process and foster a better employer-employee relationship.

“When [employers] are transparent, even when it’s not what [employees] want to hear, it’s honesty and openness and it builds trust,” Caton says.

Caton advises her business clients to research the going rate for employees in the roles they are seeking to fill and to be as competitive as possible in salaries. But small companies sometimes cannot compete with the wages offered by large companies, so she suggests stressing benefits that can be just as attractive. Those can include flexible hours, more paid time off and community service opportunities, and she hopes job-seekers will not overlook the importance of workplace culture by focusing entirely on the salary range.

The current sellers’ market that has resulted in job-seekers “asking for some really crazy things right now” will not last much longer, Caton says. She has advice for people looking for work:

  • Know what you want

  • Be realistic about it

  • Know the areas in which you are willing to compromise

  • Stand your ground

  • Be ready to sell yourself all day every day

Unfortunately for Arkansas job-seekers, according to the Associated Press, “Salary visibility is lowest in the southern U.S., which accounted for 18 of the 20 least transparent metro areas, and highest in the western part of the country, which tends to have more regulation.” According to Indeed, 33.5% of jobs posted in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area in February included a salary range — well below the national average, but up from 22.8% a year earlier.

Lily Ledbetter is now 84, eight years older than even the oldest baby boomers. While women overall still earn about 82% of what men earn, a wage gap that has been relatively stable for two decades, younger women are closer to parity with men of similar age. Among workers between the ages of 25 and 34, women earn about 92% as much as men, according to a report released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center. This is not new, however; wages for men tend to grow faster than wages for women, even when they start at the same place. This was Ledbetter’s situation throughout the 1980s and ’90s, although she didn’t realize it.

“Consider, for example, women who were ages 25 to 34 in 2010,” Rakesh Kochhar wrote in an analysis of the new Pew findings. “In that year, they earned 92% as much as men their age, compared with 83% for women overall. But by 2022, this group of women, now ages 37 to 46, earned only 84% as much as men of the same age. This pattern repeats itself for groups of women who were ages 25 to 34 in earlier years — say, 2005 or 2000 — and it may well be the future for women entering the workforce now.”


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