On the gender pay gap and the difficultly in closing it.
It would be fair to assume that we’re making steady, if slow, progress in equalizing pay between men and women as women become better educated and make inroads into the workforce. The gap did in fact narrow at a quick clip between the 1960s and 1990s and then kept shrinking—by 9.7 percentage points in the 1990s and by 3.1 points in the 2000s. But over the last decade, progress has slowed to a crawl: We’ve reduced the gap by just 1.7 percentage points. Today, women who work full-time, year-round make 77 percent of what men do.
So how can we earn back that momentum and erase that stubborn difference? A simple solution may still be unfeasible, at least politically: the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been introduced ahandfuloftimes, starting in 2009, but has always been blocked by Republicans. It would, most importantly, prohibit employers from telling their workers they can’t discuss pay with peers, tighten the rules for what counts as a legitimate reason for gender pay disparities, and increase the penalties for unfair pay.
Incidentally, I didn’t even know about “salary secrecy”. First step: get rid of that. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Really?
Considering such political impossibilities, it may be time to break it into bits and find other piecemeal solutions. One part of that lies with the courts, but before women can begin suing, they have to know what their co-workers make. The very first step would be to ban salary secrecy—the practice that employers have of prohibiting or strongly discouraging their workers from talking about compensation with each other. About half of employees toil under such regimes. President Obama recently issued an executive order that gets rid of salary secrecy for companies that contract with the government, impacting about 22 percent of the workforce. It’s progress, but it still leaves the vast majority of workers unprotected; the Paycheck Fairness Act would extend it to all Americans.
But here’s the crux. The onus remains on women to challenge their own lower wages, with all that that entails.
While these solutions would likely help reduce the wage gap, they all still put the onus on the women who need the help. That’s a big ask. Many women may be afraid to risk their jobs, careers, and resources to make a discrimination complaint (particularly considering that such a low percentage win their suits). A totally different solution that was in vogue in the ’70s and ’80s is “pay equity”: the idea that women doing comparable yet different work to men—but not the exact same job—should be paid the same. (Think a maid, who tends to be female, being paid the same as a janitor, who tends to be male.) There’s a real difference in pay between traditionally female jobs and traditionally male jobs. At the low-wage end, jobs that are 75 percent or more female pay nearly $150 less each week than those that are 75 percent men. At the high end, women’s work pays about $470 less.
Rest: New Republic.