In 2021, work performed by women – from caregivers to doctors, actors to professional athletes – continues to be undervalued, as the recent “demonstration of inequity” between the NCAA men’s and women’s facilities clearly demonstrates. This most recent example of the gender gap in sports shines a light on just how far we need to go to close the gender gap in the workplace. And closing the pay gap would be a practical and symbolic first step.

Today, on Equal Pay Day – and despite the 1963 Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or gender for jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility – women are still earning less than men. In the U.S., women are paid 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. San Antonio has even lower averages, and for women of color, the pay disparities are even worse, with Black women in San Antonio earning 72 cents and Latinas earning 61 cents for every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns.

This adds up. Over a year, a San Antonio woman working a full-time year-round job loses $5,656. Over the course of her life, a woman could invest these additional earnings to pay for childcare, a home, college tuition, and her own retirement, building wealth that, for many in San Antonio, could break the cycle of poverty.

So why does the pay gap still exist? 

In part, the pay gap exists due to policies that fail to protect against discrimination and actually penalize employees who practice pay inequity. In Texas, extending protection to all employees would be a first step. Sec. 659.001 of the Texas Government Code states that, “A woman who performs public service for this state is entitled to be paid the same compensation for her service as is paid to a man who performs the same kind, grade, and quantity of service, and a distinction in compensation may not be made because of sex.” A change to the law would ensure that all women working in the state of Texas receive protection. 

But it’s not just about policy change. Cities and states around the country are increasingly adopting policies or implementing initiatives aimed at closing the wage gap, but businesses must also play a role. YWCA San Antonio has launched a wage equity cohort of leaders of local businesses of all sizes to design equitable business practices to close the gender pay and leadership gap. If women were paid the same as men for the same jobs, San Antonio’s local economy would gain an additional $18.2 billion in revenue. If the economic motivator isn’t enough, there’s also this: equitable compensation policies help with talent recruitment and employee retention.

Individuals can also play a role in helping close the wage gap. Awareness is essential. YWCA San Antonio surveyed over 325 individuals and found that most people believe that a wage gap exists because women aren’t aware that they are being underpaid. Conversations about compensation are not yet normalized in many workplaces. A critical first step is knowing what questions to ask. Other factors that play a role include the use of prior salary history by employers. To date, there have been 19 statewide bans and 21 local government bans aimed at eliminating pay discrimination by banning employers from requesting salary history from applicants. Texas is not on that list.  

With an understanding that awareness is key, YWCA San Antonio is preparing to launch a series of salary negotiation workshops and continue to advocate for wage equity at the local and state levels. Organizations like the American Association of University Women have created individual roadmaps to true pay equity for each state that provide a list of changes needed to our state laws. AAUW is also one of many organizations that offers know your rights and legal advocacy for women to combat pay discrimination. The University of Texas at Austin provides seven easy steps to keep in mind prior to negotiating salary during a job offer. As individuals, we can each share the data and ensure everyone has access to the resources and tools they need to make sure they are getting paid what they deserve.

Change in policy, business practices, and individual empowerment will go a long way toward closing the gender pay gap. Changing the way we think about – and value – the work that women do will go an even longer way to ensuring gender equity in the future.

Coda Rayo-Garza is a researcher, mother, and Laredo transplant. She works as director of research and data for a nonprofit organization and is a Ph.D. student in applied demography. She has two young kids...