March 15 was National Pay Equity Day.
It’s the day when women have to work into a new year to earn
the same amount that men earned in the previous year. While National
Pay Equity Day came earlier this year than last, meaning that the
gender pay gap is narrowing, the general pay equity day does not
address the pay differences that Black, Latina, Asian, and Native
American women earn. Black women will work into September to make the
same amount that a man earned last year. Latina women will work into
October. Native women work almost until the end of the year (or
nearly twice as long) to get equal pay!
of the reasons we have pay inequality is that employers tend to make
salary offers based on what people made in their previous job. In
other words, an underpaid woman who reports her salary is likely to
get an offer based on her last salary. Instead of valuing the job, no
matter who holds it, too many employers value the person who holds it
based on their prior pay, not their qualifications or prior
experience. President Biden’s March 15 executive order “On
Advancing Economy, Efficiency, and Effectiveness in Federal
Contracting by Promoting Pay Equity and Transparency” addresses
some of the ways the gender pay gap is maintained, and develops
policies to ensure that past salary is not a consideration in current
salary for federal contractors.
is a policy that other employers should consider. Too many women,
especially Black, Brown, Native and Asian women, are viewed through a
lens darkly, pun intended. Too many employees feel that these women
should be “grateful” or “lucky” to be
employed with reasonable salaries. Without salary transparency, too
many workers earn much less than their peers, even though they are
doing the same job.
with the same education or qualifications, people in the same
organization earn vastly different amounts. Without pay transparency
laws, the gender pay gap persists. The National Women’s Law
Center (nwlc.org) has prepared a fact sheet titled, “Asking for
Salary History Perpetuates Pay Discrimination from Job to Job,”
exploring this issue. The fact sheet notes that many states have
passed laws that prevent the use of salary history in setting current
salaries because salary history perpetuates discrimination.
to the Economic Policy Institute (epi.org), women earn 22 percent
less than men, but grocery stores don’t charge women 22 percent
less for groceries. Utilities don’t give us a break on our
telephone, water, or electricity bills because we are women and earn
less. The pay gap contributes to women’s economic insecurity.
When the pay gap is combined with the effects of COVID on women’s
employment, the result is a precarious existence for too many women.
gender pay gap is not just a women’s issue; it is a family and
a human problem. Lily Ledbetter, the outstanding activist, sued the
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for pay discrimination. When she
sued, the law required that lawsuits be filed within 180 days of
experiencing discrimination, so her case was dismissed. The first
piece of legislation that President Obama signed was the Lily
Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth
Bader Ginsberg, had a framed copy of the legislation in her chambers.
Biden executive order is a step in the right direction, but it is a
step that affects just a fraction of the workforce. More women need
to be more like Lily Ledbetter, prepared to sue exploitive employers.
Unfortunately, too many need their jobs more than they need justice.
Too many fear negative repercussions if they complain or sue. Too
many men turn a blind eye to pay inequity, although they have working
mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. Too many think gender
discrimination is acceptable.
National Pay Equity Day recognition reminds us of how much work
remains to close the pay gap and combat gender discrimination. But,
as the great abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass
said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Where
are the people who will forcefully demand an end to gender
discrimination? And do those who work for the White House, the
Congress, and the Senate experience pay discrimination or earn equal