Tuesday, April 8th is Equal Pay Day – the calendar date that marks the approximate extra time the average American woman would need to earn as much as the average man did in the prior year. According to the federal government, women make an average of 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. Women, think about everything that has happened in your life from January 1st through April 8th. You’ve lived many a storied day, I’m sure. Now, get your head around the fact that if you were being paid as much as men in your field, you’ve effectively been working for free these last 98 days. Sobering thought, no?
How do these pay discrepancies happen? Because most people don’t know what other people make. There is a big giant cloud of secrecy regarding wages that allows employers to vary employee pay for any number of reasons, including discriminatory ones.
Enter the Obama administration. Tomorrow, on Equal Pay Day, the president will put forth two new executive actions aimed at reducing or eliminating pay discrimination. The first, an executive order, will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about how much money they make. The second action, a memorandum, will require federal contractors to report data to the government showing the compensation provide their employees by sex and race.
The effects of these actions? Transparency. We can only fight battles we know about. And, granted, these actions only affect the approximate 1 in 5 women who work for government contractors, but are significant in that they will hopefully establish transparency among all industries and professions. These actions don’t require listing of employee wages or true confessions during lunch meetings, but they will do away with being punished for seeking such information, and they encourage healthy comparisons.
I applaud this important step toward wage equality. Once we can see that women in the same positions as men get paid the same wages, we can move onto to other, more slippery, realms of wage inequality, like those that financially favor occupations deemed “male” (Math/Science professor) over very similar occupations deemed “female” (Humanities professor). But that’s another blog for another day, yes?