Actress Stacey Dash joined day-time talk show host Meredith Vieira yesterday for a conversation about women in the workplace and the infamous wage gap.

I’m glad they had this discussion because there are a lot of women who probably do worry they’re not being paid fairly. It’s one of the reasons IWF made this video about the topic.

Certainly the narrative that women are only paid 77-cents for every dollar a man makes has become part of the American lexicon. That’s why it’s no surprise to hear the audience explode with applause and cheering when Viera called for pay equity.

I can understand why Vieira might be worried. She’s worked really hard for her success. I’ve watched her for years, and no doubt she has worked hard, made tradeoffs, and been very talented to be as accomplished as she is. And it's only natural that she wants the same opportunities for her daughter. (I know I want my daughters and my son to have equal opportunities.)

But here’s the thing. Vieira and her audience don’t need to be so alarmed.

She and Dash debated the numbers, but let me offer a few more facts to help clarify things. The 77-cent statistic (now sometimes noted as 78-cents) is a “comparison of averages.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics compares full-time working women to full-time working men and finds that women make about 82-cents, in fact, for every dollar a man makes.

But when you control for any number of factors that go into determining someone’s remuneration – college major, job title, time spent in the workplace, time spent in the office each day – this pay gap shrinks significantly, and we are left with about a 4-6 cent disparity, which can likely be explained by social and cultural “norms,” biology, women’s choices, as well as possibly discrimination. (Check out our fact sheet, discussion guide, and book Lean Together for more on this.)

But don’t just take my word for it. This has become widely accepted. Women’s groups on the left like the American Association of University Women have also found that the wage gap is likely more around 6-cents. Recently on the PBS Show To the Contrary, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) acknowledged that the wage gap is much smaller than we often suggest.

Even the White House’s Betsey Stevenson has admitted it’s not accurate.

This is important because the left often presents society and the workplace especially as inherently hostile to women and girls. The assumption is that widespread discrimination remains a serious threat to women’s progress. But the facts suggest otherwise. Not only is the wage gap far smaller than we often hear it is, but also women are outpacing men educationally, professionally, and even financially at different points of their lives. So misstating the facts does make women out to be victims and men out to be gross misogynists when we know neither is the case.  

We’re all interested in women’s success. But we ought to be talking about giving girls and women the tools they need to be more effective, not more government legislation. And I think this is what Dash was hoping to convey. The good news is there’s a multi-million dollar industry devoted to this (just ask Sheryl Sandberg!). There are books, courses, coaches, and organizations all focused on helping women succeed in the workplace – learning how to negotiate, how to manage conflict, and how to get the corner office. (In fact, I should read more of these books!).

Let’s have an honest conversation about pay equity and women in the workplace. If we do, we’ll find women – and men – will all be more successful.