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  • Katica Roy

The Pay Gap Isn’t Apples-to-Apples, And Here’s Why

Welcome to my weekly Q&A feature. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. Each week I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.

  • Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

  • Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.

Be Brave™


Why The Pay Gap Isn’t Apples-to-Apples


How can you say in good faith that the gender pay gap is 80ish cents on the dollar when you know it’s not an apples to apples comparison?

Curious about something? ​Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of Brave Souls®.


You’re right. The gender pay gap (currently hovering at 83 cents on the dollar) is not an apples-to-apples comparison. And that’s the point. The 17-cent disparity between women’s aggregate earnings and men’s aggregate earnings reflects all the inequity that leads to women receiving lower wages than men.

When I say that pay is the symptom, not the disease, I’m alluding to this inequity build-up.

Think about your last paycheck. What did its dollar value actually represent? It likely represented:

  • Your ability to afford education

  • Your choice of academic study

  • Your capacity to enter and stay in the workforce

  • Your decision to work in a specific field

  • Your rate of promotion at past & current companies

  • Your potential evaluations from past & current employers

  • Your performance reviews from past & current employers

Your paycheck is your quantitative value in the labor market. It’s the output. The decisions by you and others that led to your paycheck? That’s your qualitative value. They’re the inputs. And here’s the uncomfortable truth: many of the decisions that brought you to where you are today (i.e. the inputs to pay) contain intersectional gender inequities.

What The Gender Pay Gap Actually Represents

Let’s walk through a few examples of how inequity shows up in the world of work.

1. Ability to afford education

Women are less likely to receive financial help from parents to pay for college, which helps explain why women hold 67% of all student loan debt despite making up 58% of college graduates. Even after controlling for college major, occupation, number of hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, grade point average, industry, undergraduate institution, age, geography, and marital status, there is still a 7% earnings gap between men and women college graduates.

2. Choice of academic study

Women are largely socialized out of STEM fields. In their pre-teen years, boys and girls have similar levels of confidence in their ability to forge a career in STEM. But as they grow into adolescence, boys become more confident in their ability to succeed in STEM, whereas girls become less confident in their ability to succeed. Yet despite their reported “lack of confidence” in STEM, girls outperform boys in STEM subjects.

And among the highly-talented women STEM graduates who make it into the labor force, 52% of them leave their jobs, churning twice as fast as men, due to gender inequities such as lack of career advancement, harassment, and slow salary growth.

3. Capacity to enter and stay in the workforce

39% of mothers compared to 24% of fathers have taken a significant amount of time off work to care for family members.

4. Decision to work in a specific field

As much as 51% of the gender pay gap is attributable to occupational segregation. Women-dominated fields pay lower wages than men-dominated fields even though the jobs require the same amount of effort, experience, and education. Moreover, 94% of occupations have a gender pay gap.

5. Rate of promotion at past & current employers

Men receive promotions at a 21% greater rate than women. For Black women, the gender promotion gap doubles.

6. Potential evaluations at past & current employers

Although women are 7.3% more likely than men to receive high performance ratings, their potential ratings (as measured using the 9-box grid) are 5.8% lower than men’s.

7. Performance reviews at past & current employers

A third of performance reviews contain bias, leading to women receiving lower performance ratings 4% of the time.

In the same way that a symptom signals the presence of a disease, the gender pay gap signals the presence of embedded inequities. That’s why you might have heard people, including myself, call pay inequity a systemic issue.

TL;DR: The gender pay gap is the compound interest of decades of structural biases. As such, it is perhaps the most visible representation of the hidden inequities that govern our society.

Curious about something? ​Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of this newsletter.

© 2022 Katica Roy™, Inc.


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