Despite our nation’s painstaking progress toward closing the gender pay gap, employed women still only make $0.83 for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts. The rate is significantly worse for employed women of color and mothers, falling as low as $0.51 for every man’s dollar.

A key contributor to the perpetuation of the gender pay gap in the U.S. is another phenomenon known as the “ask gap.” The ask gap is defined as the difference in salary expectations between certain demographic groups in the workplace (such as male and female employees). As you can imagine, the ask gap can impose long-term repercussions on the lives of employed women, mothers, and other minority employees who face discrimination in the U.S. workforce.

Research shows that female employees ask for approximately 6% less than male employees when negotiating pay. This rate increases with the position level, meaning that the higher female employees move up the company ladder, the more they sacrifice in compensation—simply for being a female worker.

Keep reading to learn more about how the ask gap perpetuates the gender pay gap, how we can work to eliminate systemic discrimination in the American workplace, and potential solutions to lessen gender-based discrepancies in the U.S. workforce.

Gender Discrimination in the American Workplace

Although women ask for pay raises as often as male employees, only 15% of female employees are likely to receive them compared to 20% of men. Moreover, the average starting salary for women is $2,200 lower than the starting pay for male employees in the same position with comparable qualifications.

Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, there are certain patriarchal ideals that have been engrained into our modern society. The American workplace is no exception, as the U.S. workforce was originally built by and for white male workers. 

Given this fact, it’s understandable that more progress is required for our nation to achieve true and lasting equality at work. While there are various federal laws in place that prohibit discrimination in the professional sphere, these aren't enough to make employment discrimination a thing of the past.

From sexual harassment to gendered pay scales to unlawful termination, non-male and/or non-white employees are more likely to encounter some form of bias, unjust treatment, or discrimination in their chosen occupation.

What Federal Laws Protect Employees Against Discrimination?

There are several federal laws that protect U.S. workers against discrimination in the workplace, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It also makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who choose to report unlawful behavior in the workplace.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). This law makes it illegal to discriminate against employees who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or suffers from a pregnancy-related condition (such as postpartum depression). Employers are not legally permitted to ask female applicants if they are pregnant or planning to be.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA). This law makes it illegal to pay unequal wages to men and women for equal work. While the EPA is necessary and functions well in theory, it isn’t enough to singlehandedly eliminate the U.S. gender pay gap, making it all the more important to report discriminatory acts against women and other underrepresented populations in American workplaces.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). This law protects employees aged 40 or older in the workforce. Employers are legally prohibited from retaliating against employees who file a complaint regarding age-based discrimination or other protected class under the EEOC.
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled employees on the basis of their disability. It requires U.S. employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled workers so long as they don’t impose an undue hardship on the company.

Salary Negotiations: Helpful or Harmful?

Negotiating pay is a common element of job hunting. While the concept of settling on a starting salary isn't inherently bad, many Americans may be unaware of its impact on female employees and other underrepresented groups in the U.S. workforce.

Consider these 3 downsides to engaging in a salary negotiation as a female employee:

Women are often penalized regardless of how they approach pay negotiations.

From an early age, cultural norms and gender biases condition women to adopt personalities that are compliant, nurturing, and less authoritative than men. Unfortunately, these harmful stereotypes and social conditioning can carry over into the workplace, too.

Many women express discomfort while initiating or participating in pay negotiation—and rightfully so, given the patriarchal origins of U.S. society. Many employed women are rejected and dismissed in pay negotiations as a result of being “too soft” or lacking a backbone.

However, this disadvantage is a double-edged sword. Female employees who do succeed in being assertive and self-assured may face backlash for being “too aggressive” or “too masculine.” In this manner, employed women can find themselves engaged in a losing battle for fair treatment and equal pay that their bosses aren’t willing to deliver.

Women are under societal pressure to accept the first offer they receive.

Women tend to accept job offers faster than male employees. In many cases, women lack the confidence that men possess, as male employees are typically more confident that higher offers will land.

Because employment discrimination often focuses on the offensive behavior and the offender who demonstrates it, many people overlook the fact that the party being discriminated against may share a similarly biased outlook—the difference being, of course, that the victimized party stands to suffer more harm as a result.

This means that women are also prone to view themselves in the same discriminatory light demonstrated by male coworkers and bosses, leading female employees to underestimate their worth and potentially settle for less than they deserve, whether it be in the form of less compensation, less recognition, or less respect.

Internalized beliefs in the workplace can be harmful and difficult to identify.

Regardless of their position in the company hierarchy, it’s common for U.S. workers to exhibit discriminatory behaviors and act on unconscious biases. Even the employees who are being discriminated against aren’t immune to internalizing discriminatory beliefs that were modeled to us by others or developed as a result of social conditioning.

Unconscious biases can lead society to automatically perceive women’s work as less valuable than men’s work. Moreover, the same issue applies when comparing BIPOC employees to white workers and LBGTQ+ employees to cisgender workers.

Internalized prejudices can lead an employer to approach a salary negotiation with a woman differently than they would approach the same conversation with a male employee. It can also lead to unfair biases in hiring, promotions, and overall treatment.

Eliminating Discrimination in the American Workplace

The negative impact of workplace discrimination isn't limited to minority employees; it affects workers at every level. Discrimination affects the company as a whole, as biased practices can make it challenging for organizations to find and retain employees, avoid costly lawsuits, stay profitable, and foster a constructive environment for success.

While our nation still has a long way to go to close the gender pay gap and eliminate the ask gap, there are steps we can take now to benefit American workers in the long run. Consider the following ways to put an end to discrimination in U.S. workplaces:

  • Require companies to conduct regular audits to identify pay discrepancies between men, women, BIPOC employees, and underrepresented demographic groups
  • Encourage employees to speak openly and candidly about compensation to expose potential pay gaps
  • Educate employees on unconscious gender bias
  • Empower women with tools and training to transition to higher-level roles

Passionate Advocacy for the Rights of California Employees

At Polaris Law Group, LLP, we pride ourselves on providing reliable representation and customized legal solutions for our clients. We strongly believe that every U.S. employee has the right to a safe and just workplace free of discrimination, which is why we're so passionate about restoring the rights of California workers.

We understand how frustrating it can be to experience unfair treatment at the hands of an employer. Fortunately, our skilled employment lawyers have the extensive experience and knowledge required to help you navigate the intricacies of employment law. Rest assured that we'll stop at nothing to obtain the justice and results you deserve in court.

For over 25 years, our firm has focused exclusively on employment law in California. If you’ve been discriminated against at work on the basis of gender, religion, age, or any other protected class, it’s imperative to take immediate action to assert your rights and take a stand. Reach out to our office to discuss your case with a trusted California employment lawyer.

If you’ve been discriminated against at work, you deserve experienced legal representation. Our employment law attorneys are here to restore your rights. Call (888) 796-4010 to request a free consultation

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