Today, April 14, is 2015’s Equal Pay Day. This date (104 days into 2015) symbolizes how far into the current year in addition to the entire previous year women need to work in order to earn the same amount that men earned during the prior year. That is roughly 21 weeks of extra work for equal pay. A pay gap exists in nearly every industry — even in high-paying STEM fields, women are shortchanged.
EQUAL PAY ACT OF 1963
When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, a woman made 59 cents in comparison to the dollar a man made. Fifty-two years later, there has only been a 19 cents improvement. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, women now make 78 cents per dollar in comparison to men for the same work. Although, according to the National Women’s Law Center, this gap is even worse for women of color. African American women earn only 64 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents for each dollar earned by males. The National Committee on Pay Equity has a chart of the wage gap over time. While the gap is closing, it is moving at very slow rate.
Some will argue that women tend to choose different jobs and that more women work in lower-paid occupations. Another argument is that women often leave the workforce during their working prime and/or they cut back to part-time diminishing their earning potential. However, even when these factors are equalized a pay gap of about 9% persists.
LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT OF 2009
Lilly Ledbetter was one of the few female supervisors at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama. She worked there for close to two decades eventually retiring in 1998. However, after receiving an anonymous note revealing the salary of three of her male counterparts, she filed an EEOC complaint. Her case went to trial and due to the severe pay discrimination she suffered, she was awarded $3.3 million dollars. Her case eventually reached the Supreme Court, where it was denied because she did not file suit within 180 days of her first paycheck. Ledbetter will never receive this restitution from Goodyear. She is quoted as saying, “I’ll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference.” She did and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. It works to give people who experience pay discrimination more time to file a complaint.
With all of this history in mind, it is important to remember that the pay gap still exists today. Even the recent Sony email hacking revealed pay disparity amongst Hollywood’s leading male and female actors. So, what can you do to help? Recommendations for companies and policy makers can be found here and here. However, on an individual level, improved negotiation skills can help close the pay gap as well. One can learn strategies in order to help better negotiate and advocate for fair pay on their behalf.