WNBA draft highlights gender pay gap as experts call for change in women's compensation Difference in league revenue is most likely main driver — there are steps all workers can take


WNBA first draft pick Caitlin Clark was chosen by the Indiana Fever earlier this month after a bombshell season with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

But some were quick to object to the details of Clark’s contract, as she’ll earn $76,535 in 2024, an amount set to increase each year. (If the team option is picked up in 2027, she’ll earn $97,582, as FOX Business reported.)

Clark’s offer from the WNBA is 132 times less than her male NBA counterparts — who have accepted over $10 million contracts in the past, according to sports contract site Spotrac.

Although the pay difference between players in the two leagues is "shocking," the difference in league revenue is most likely the main driver, according to James Neave, the U.K.-based head of data science at the search engine Adzuna.

The NBA pulled in revenue of $10 billion in 2023, while the WNBA made $60 million, according to World Sports Network.

Caitlin Clark speaks into microphone

Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever talks to the media during an introductory press conference on April 17, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE / Getty Images)

Basketball aside, Neave said the "bigger issue" in the gender pay gap lies in the more conventional workplace.

The steep variation in pay isn't exclusive to sports, as a gender pay gap still exists in most economic sectors, experts say.

In Jan. 2022, the U.S. pay gap was 2.7%, as male employees were making an average of $61,342 compared to $59,695 for females, according to Adzuna’s archive of employment data.

Two years later, in April 2024, the gap widened to 6%, with men making $113,009 on average and women pulling in $106,268, per the same source.

As of March 2024, the science sector experienced the largest pay gap at 13.1%, followed by engineering (9.5%), fashion and arts (9%), and media (7.9%), data shows.

split image of a woman holding coins and caitlin clark

Caitlin Clark poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Indiana Fever during the 2024 WNBA Draft on April 14, 2024, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, New York. (iStock; Brian Babineau/NBAE / Getty Images)

The only sector where women are earning more than men is accounting, which is a -3.6% difference, but that gap has been closing year over year.

‘Pretty dramatic differences'

A recent study by HiBob surveyed the compensation and behavior of women in the workplace; the research involved the responses of 2,000 full-time professionals, both men and women, aged 25 and above.

More men (38%) received promotions with pay increases in 2023 compared to 32% of women, the study found. 

Annie Rosencrans, New York-based people and culture director at HR platform HiBob, shared more insights into the findings in an interview with FOX Business — including the fact that 80% of the men surveyed felt that both genders were promoted equally, compared to 61% of women.

"Around a third of women thought that men are being promoted more often or more quickly than women," she said. "[There are] pretty dramatic differences between men and women in their expectations or sense of what their employers are doing."

male and female coworkers shake hands

More men, or 38%, received promotions with pay increases in 2023 compared to 32% of women, a recent study found.  (iStock / iStock)

Research has also suggested that women have lower confidence in taking time off — and opt for a five-day, work-from-home model for "optimal work-life balance."

The pay variance, whether it's in the WNBA or an office or work environment, is rooted in "historical perceptions of the value of women" that have "carried over for generations," Rosencrans suggested.

Parental leave plays a role in these perceptions, she said, although U.S. companies have gotten "much closer" to offering equal maternal and paternal benefits, she said.

"If women are expected to take 16 weeks away, but men only take three weeks, or they're discouraged from taking the full allotment of time, the man is going to stay in the workforce and continue scaling, growing and contributing," she said. 

"Women may be out for four to six months, come back and [find that] the company has changed dramatically."

a woman holds her baby while working

Multiple experts agreed that women could be held back in pay due to their need for maternity leave and childcare.  (iStock / iStock)

Taking action

These are "very real problems" that employers should address through policy-making, verbal cues and implicit messages, especially regarding childcare, said Rosencrans.

As more women have decided not to have children or have delayed starting a family to focus on their careers, this is where "the bias comes in," she said.

"Powerful people tend to be men," she said. "Therefore, when you're promoting someone into the next leadership role, and you have a man and a woman of equal caliber, skillset and experience … oftentimes it ends up being the man." 

The expert added that she hopes it "doesn't happen as much these days, but it still certainly happens — and we have to break those biases in our heads and be more aware that this is natural to us in society."

Neave added that pay transparency is "crucial" to bridging the gender gap, as well as a company’s recruitment and retention of employees.

woman works in an office while pregnant

U.S. companies have gotten "much closer" today to offering equal maternal and paternal benefits, an expert noted. (iStock / iStock)

"If a company is publishing its salaries, that gives a clear message that there’s a fairly level playing field," he said.

Being transparent about pay also avoids "wasting the time" of candidates who have entered the screening process, Neave said.

That transparency also helps with employee retention, he noted, as people who know they are being paid fairly are likely to be more productive and efficient, Neave added.

Neave also emphasized the importance of self-advocacy and the highlighting of accomplishments.

Resume issues

In addition to understanding the market and the value of one's resume when applying for jobs, an expert emphasized the importance of "knowing your rights" to viewing company information and figures.  (iStock / iStock)

In addition to understanding the market and the value of their resume when applying for jobs, women should "know their rights" in terms of viewing company information and figures, he said.

The study found that men are more aggressive in requesting pay increases.

Eighty-two percent of HiBob study respondents said their organizations do not share salary information, but Rosencrans noted that this is becoming "less and less common" as more states roll out transparency requirements.

The study also found that men are more aggressive in requesting pay increases. It's why Rosencrans encouraged women to "fight for what you deserve."

She added, "If you don't demand more, you're not going to get more."

woman counting money at an office

"Caitlin Clark proved she's incredibly talented and can compete with the best of them, any gender — and the value financially that she can bring to the sport is immense," an expert said. (iStock / iStock)

Having women in leadership is a "really helpful start" in allowing other female employees to grow through mentorship, according to Rosencrans.

"[When] women support one another … that's going to continue to create more female leaders in the workplace," she said.

"Teach your daughters, your sisters, whatever women are in your life — we need to support one another, and it will help all of us if we demand what we deserve." 

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