Fashionably Informed: The Gender Wage Gap

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In honor of Women’s History Month, Fashionably Informed will be focusing on notable women in fashion history, as well as the issues women continue to face today pertaining to fashion.

female designers working

Photo: ELLE

When it comes to women's rights, vast progress has been made in past decades, but sadly, gender inequality still persists. Perhaps most indicative of this fact is the gender wage gap in the United States. Though the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to grade salary based on gender, current statistics show that on average, women continue to earn far less than men.

In fact, women working full-time, year-round currently earn just 77% of what their male counterparts do. When accounting for race, the numbers differ even more. Compared to white men, Black and Hispanic women earn only 69% and 59% respectively, highlighting the important intersections of race and gender.

Some argue that the difference in wages exists due to personal choices, but it’s important to recognize that choices don’t exist in a vacuum. Women are more likely than men to enter lower-paying fields and to take time off for family. These factors contribute to the gender wage gap, but they’re also influenced by institutionalized sexism.

For example, women may feel more pressure than men to take time off for child-rearing due to cultural perceptions of women as caregivers. And even when all of these choices are accounted for, 41% of gap remains "unexplained by measurable factors." In other words, the gender wage gap exists despite these personal choices.

female designers resized

Photo: ELLE

The Gender Wage Gap and the Fashion Industry

For many people, fashion is viewed as an exception to the rule. As a female-dominated industry, it might appear initially as proof that women do not face discrimination in the workplace. But unfortunately even in fields as female-oriented as fashion, the gender wage gap still persists.

Though women make up a larger percentage of employees in the fashion industry, the top positions continue to be male-dominated. In fashion retail companies for example, women hold just 1.7% of CEO positions, which is lower than the average of 3.8% among notoriously sexist Fortune 500 companies. Among the highest-paid fashion executives, there are no women in the top 20.

Carolina Herrara working

Photo: ELLE

These patterns are evident in fashion design, as well, where the highest-earning designers are male and even traditionally “female” fashion houses, such as Chanel, are now often headed by men. Though there are many notable female fashion designers – Carolina Herrera (pictured above), Miuccia Prada, Donna Karan, and Vivienne Westwood, to name a few – they are often the exception to the rule. Rather, think of the top five fashion designers, and names like Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, or Alexander Wang are likely to come to mind.

If fashion is viewed as "women's work", then why aren't there more successful female designers? It's a topic that's been broached time and time again. Some suggest that it's because female designers have a more pragmatic and wearable aesthetic, whereas male designers tend to be more avant-garde.

Designer Tom Ford was quoted saying, “when women design for other women, they proceed from a standpoint of practicality – not fantasy.” Whereas male fashion design is valued (economically and socially) as couture and high-art, the more practical daily-wear looks by female designers are often seen as less valuable. When referring to the wage gap between male and female designers, the differing social and cultural value likely plays a role.

Final thoughts:

Ultimately, sexism persists in the fashion world, as evidenced by the differences in pay and the comparative success of female designers. But seeing the vast improvements in gender equality over the past few decades alone makes us hopeful that things will change going forward.

Your thoughts?

Do you think wage inequality is a problem? Are there any other ways you think sexism manifests in the fashion industry? Let us know in the comments below!

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