In case you missed it, June 10 marked the 57th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This begs the question: is gender-based wage discrimination still a persistent problem in the 21st-century workplace?
Many men might say no. However, it’s a different story for most women. The Equal Pay Act was passed by Congress and signed by President John F. Kennedy (JFK) in the White House Oval Office surrounded by working women more than one-half century ago (photo below).
The Equal Pay Act “affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force, they will find equality in their pay envelope,” said JFK in signing the landmark law. But if you think pay inequity is a relic, just take a look at the gaping disparity of salaries for men and women in the same or similar jobs inside and outside the C-suite.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), female employees make about $0.80 cents on the dollar compared to men. Moreover, women of color face a double dose of discrimination based on race or national origin plus gender. Black women earn 62% compared to men’s earnings and Hispanic women make 54%, says IWPR. “Hispanic women will have to wait until 2233 and Black women will wait until 2124 for equal pay.”
Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the sole or co-breadwinner in half of American families with children. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men.
You can also examine government data on the number of annual equal pay and wage bias charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination — including the Equal Pay Act. Pay discrimination complaints to the federal government represent only the proverbial tip-of-the-iceberg compared to the totality of workplace bias that goes unreported.
Gender Bias vs. Life Choices
Gender-based pay inequality is not just a problem for working women but also for entire families. Women are still being short-changed regardless of the sector in which they work.
An article by Money (Time.com) states:
- “The persistent issue has plagued women and particularly women of color for decades — so much so that there was an official Equal Pay Day established in 1996.”
- “But despite the growing #MeToo movement and increased attention on the equal pay disparity, research shows little progression on closing the gender wage gap.”
The pay gap is particularly onerous for those families where women are the sole “breadwinners” or earn more than their spouses, which is more common today than ever.
As President Obama previously stated:
- “When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn’t just be getting a little bit of bacon. If they’re bringing home more of the income and that income is less than a fair share, that means that families have less to get by on, for child care or health care or gas or groceries.”
- Pay inequality “makes it harder for middle-class families to save and retire. It leaves small businesses with customers who have less money in their pockets, which is not good for the economy.”
- “Yet from boardrooms to classrooms to factory floors, [women’s] talent and hard work are not reflected on the payroll.”
Male-dominated workplaces remain too commonplace, negatively affecting women at nearly every socioeconomic level. Some argue the issue of pay inequity is strictly due to continuing sex-based discrimination against women — whether blatant or subtle, intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious.
Many working women remain undervalued and unfairly compensated in all professions compared to their male counterparts. Meanwhile, others claim the persistent gender pay gap exists because of individual choices made by women, specifically leaving the workforce because of pregnancy and raising children. So who’s right about the age-old equal pay argument over sex discrimination versus life choices made by women?
Understanding Equal Pay
It’s perplexing to understand why unequal pay for women has been problematic for so long, despite legislative remedies over the decades buttressed by more women in the workplace. How does the Equal Pay Act factor into the equation? What does this law mean for employers and working women? Is the 57-year-old Equal Pay Act still working?
- “The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work.”
- “The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. Job content (not job titles) determines whether jobs are substantially equal.”
- “All forms of pay are covered by this law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing, and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits.”
- “If there is an inequality in wages between men and women, employers may not reduce the wages of either sex to equalize their pay.”
In addition to the Equal Pay Act, women can file sex-based wage bias charges with the EEOC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as private lawsuits. To supplement the Equal Pay Act, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. Obama also established a National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force in 2010.
Devaluing women’s work — as evidenced by perpetual pay inequity — is a travesty for a nation that prides itself on equality for all. Nevertheless, it appears that societal attitudes by corporate management and leadership have failed to keep pace with progressive laws to level the playing field.
Women now comprise more than half the U.S. labor force at nearly 52%, a figure projected to hold steady through at least 2024 (according to the latest available data from dol.gov). Further, more women than men now earn college and graduate degrees, as noted above.
More must be done to bridge the pay gap for all working women. This will move America closer to gender equality and benefit the overall economy.
You might think that President Trump would have taken a special interest in gender-based pay equity due to his daughter’s business acumen — not to mention his own. Yet while Ivanka Trump has championed the issue of equal pay, her father has ignored this persistent problem for tens of millions of working women.
The day when the gender pay gap is closed cannot come soon enough to usher in a new era of equality for women. Until that day arrives, we should all be mindful that women in the workplace, or any other place, deserve equal justice and equal opportunity under the law. Anything less would defy the morals and principles at the foundation of the American Dream.
While incremental gains have been made since the Equal Pay Act became law 57 years ago, the issue of pay parity for women remains elusive. The question is why?
What do YOU think?
Editor’s Note: This article appeared on The Good Men Project and is featured here with author permission.