Women are still earning less than men on average. Women may choose to work in lower paying occupations, they may have less experience due to having taken time off to have kids or care for elders, or they may be passed over by managers. If we eliminated all of these factors, what would the earnings gap look like?
We analyzed a setting where there were no explanations and found that women still bring home less money than men. We were able to obtain seven years of pay data for bus and train operators employed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Each worker's hourly rate is set according to their tenure and seniority dictates who gets to pick their schedule first and who gets offered overtime. We found a 9% gender gap in take- home pay for people in the same role as us.
This earnings gap was driven by something. The more unpredictable, unconventional, or uncontrollable workers' schedules were more likely to cause a gender gap, but the right approach to scheduling can boost both pay equity and productivity.
Women are more likely than men to have responsibilities outside of work that necessitate predictable schedules, such as picking up children from school or taking elderly parents to doctor's appointments. These inflexible commitments make women less able to take on shifts when scheduling is unpredictable and last-minute, leading to gender disparity in workers' ability to take on overtime shifts. When overtime shifts were offered on short notice, women were less likely to accept them than men, but they were more likely to plan ahead and build overtime into their schedule.
Female employees may need to work more-conventional hours than their male counterparts, making them less able to take on weekend shifts, holiday shifts, or split shifts. A split-shift is when work is interrupted by a few hours of rest. We found that women were more likely to avoid unconventional shifts than men were.
Since the MBTA pays the same rates for unconventional shifts as for conventional ones, there shouldn't be any differences in pay. We found that employees used excused, unpaid leave to avoid working an unconventional shift, and then took on overtime to make up the difference. Men are more likely to take on more overtime than women. When they missed an undesirable shift, men more than made up for the lost earnings with overtime, while women often didn't work enough overtime hours to make up for lost earnings.
Women were more likely than men to take unexcused leave when policies reduced employees' control over their schedules. Women were more likely than men to be punished. It is very hard for managers to plan around unexcused leave and these policies ended up hurting service delivery. More bus and train trips were canceled as a result of these policies.
The MBTA is not the only one with unpredictable schedules. Retail and service employers often use the same scheduling practices, with some changing workers schedules based on the weather. Consultants and lawyers are often called on to work late or on off days when a client presentation is required. Our research shows that on-call policies can contribute to a large earnings gap.
There are strategies that can help employers reduce the effects of scheduling policies that demand constant availability. Employers should schedule shifts as far in advance as possible and allow workers to swap shifts when necessary. They can also hire workers who aren't scheduled for regular work and are only responsible for handling crises at the last minute, a practice that hospitals have used for decades to meet unpredictable fluctuations in demand for nursing staff. Firms can make it easier to hand off projects when needed by encouraging employees to work in teams. Investments into IT solutions and a culture of building client relationships with entire teams have contributed to the sector's smaller gender earnings gap.
It's more important than ever for employers to acknowledge and support their employees' obligations outside of work as the Pandemic has intensified Predictable, conventional, and controllable schedules can help workers balance demands at work and at home, narrow the gender earnings gap, and create a better workplace for everyone.