The Gender Wage Gap: Learn, Prove, and Repeat - Double Standards in the Workplace

The Gender Wage Gap: Learn, Prove, and Repeat - Double Standards in the Workplace

Paris Flynn

Would it surprise you to learn that more women are receiving bachelor’s degrees than men? 

In just the past 50 years, the proportion of women to men with college degrees has flip-flopped. Now, more women are receiving bachelor's degrees than men. 

In 1970, only 12 percent of young women (25 to 34) had obtained a bachelor's degree, compared to 20 percent of men. By 2020, that percentage for women had tripled to 41, but increased only to 32 for men. This trend has continued in more recent years with women continuing to earn bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than men. In Rhode Island, 27% of women 25 or older have at least some college education according to the 2024 Rhode Island Women's Well-Being Index (WWBI) completed by Women's Fund of Rhode Island.

This full reversal of the degree differential has resulted in limited returns for women. Women still earn less for every dollar earned by men. According to the WWBI, women in R.I. make .81 to each $1 a man makes.3 Studies by PRB4 and Syracuse University5 demonstrate that education level does little to balance out that disparity. In fact, their research shows that women have to receive more education in order to achieve the same pay as men. It seems that the goalpost for wage equality has continued to move forward for women as more have pursued higher education in recent decades. Despite increased discourse and concerted efforts to achieve equal pay in recent years, the grip of the wage gap is enduring.

Dissenters on the legitimacy of the gender wage gap often cite that women receive education and qualifications in less lucrative industries than men. However, the wage gap can be majorly attributed to the same employers paying men more than women, despite comparable skills. Only a fraction, just one-quarter, of the gender gap is related to a high concentration of women in industries and firms with notably low wages. The gender wage gap is concentrated predominantly within firms, not spread across dissimilar industries, as so commonly argued. 

There are a host of factors that contribute considerably to the gender wage gap we observe in our modern society, including race, age, and discrimination. A commonly cited culprit is parenthood and child-rearing, or the“maternal wall” pattern of bias and discrimination that afflicts working women with children. This form of bias perpetuates the false belief that mothers are less committed to their careers and have poorer work performance compared to their colleagues. However, recent studies conducted by Pew Research Center disprove motherhood as a factor contributing significantly to the gender wage parity. The center identifies that employed mothers earn about the same as similarly educated women without children at home,” with both groups earning significantly less on average than fathers. This suggests that the “maternal wall” bias may not be increased discrimination against mothers, but rather a negative perception that blankets over all working women of or beyond child-bearing age. 


In radical opposition to the negative effects of the maternal wall on women workers, fathers benefit from a phenomenon known as the “fatherhood wage premium.” This premium, discussed by Rebecca Glauber, observes an increase in average earnings for men who identify as fathers. Rather than discussing parenthood as a negative factor impeding the earnings and perception of women in the workplace, we should focus the conversation on the constructive effect it has on men and why this paradox exists. What about being a parent qualifies a man, but disqualifies a woman?


The paradoxical effects of education and parenthood on the earnings of men and women illuminate the “Prove it Again” pattern of bias that affects women and other marginalized communities in the professional world. While becoming a parent often increases a woman’s likelihood of experiencing discrimination in the workplace, it results in an earnings increase for men. And while increased education positively impacts earnings for both men and women, women have to earn roughly ~1.5 more degrees than men, on average, in order to achieve equivalent pay. These inconsistencies lend to the argument that women have to prove themselves more, and prove themselves repeatedly, in the professional world in order to reap the same financial benefits from their labor and education as men.

How To Navigate the “Prove it Again” Bias:

  • Do not doubt yourself - While a woman may wait to have all 6 requirements before applying for a job or promotion, men are more likely to throw their name in the hat right away. Do not disqualify yourself by failing to enter the competition. It is very likely that you stand a better chance than you give yourself credit for. 
  • Be your best advocate - Mistakes made by women are often noticed more and for longer than those made by men. Requirements are also often rigorously applied to women, yet more leniently to men. Advocate for yourself in these situations and make sure you are being held to fair and equal standards.
  • Keep real-time records - Women’s successes are often attributed more to luck than skill. Women are also more likely to be discredited. Keep constant and detailed records of your work on hand, so when necessary, you are able to prove yourself again.
  • Develop a team of allies - Network and build relationships with a diverse group of professionals, either within your organization, or beyond, to support one another, celebrate each other’s successes, and publicly advocate for one another when needed.

Though you may have to prove yourself over and over again, the misconceptions and biases of others do not diminish your qualifications or legitimacy. Be prepared to advocate for yourself, but know that you and your skillset are just as valid as those who do not face repeated doubt or questioning of their competence and capabilities. 


  1. Schaeffer, Katherine. “10 Facts about Today’s College Graduates.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 12 Apr. 2022. 
  2. RI Women’s Well Being Index 2024 - Educational Attainment - page 1

  1. RI Women’s Well Being Index 2024 - Economic Security - page 2
  2. “Does the Gender Pay Gap Explain Why Women Complete College at Higher Rates than Men?” PRB, Accessed 8 Feb. 2024. 
  3. The Cost of Being a Woman: How Race and Education Affect the Gender Pay Gap, Accessed 9 Feb. 2024. 
  4. Focus on Same Skills, Different Pay - OECD, Accessed 9 Feb. 2024. 
  5. Kochhar, Rakesh. “The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 1 Mar. 2023, 
  6. Glauber, Rebecca. “Trends in the Motherhood Wage Penalty and Fatherhood Wage Premium for Low, Middle, and High Earners.” Duke University Press, Duke University Press, 25 Sept. 2018.
  7. Williams, Joan C. “The 5 Biases Pushing Women out of Stem.” Harvard Business Review, 2 Sept. 2020,

About the Author:

Paris Flynn, MBA is a painter, writer, and advocate for DEI and belonging. She is a graduate of Bryant University where she received the HerStory award for working alongside administration and faculty to improve the female experience and increase gender equity on campus. Annually, she awards a scholarship to individuals who embody the ideals of empathy, integrity, generosity, and service through the Wave Foundation. She also facilitates workshops for self-advocacy, leadership, and DEI&B. She is currently working to create more opportunities and eliminate social isolation for individuals living with disabilities as the Ambassador Liaison and Program Manager for Best Buddies Massachusetts & Rhode Island.