Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 12, the symbolic day on which a woman must work in 2016 to catch up to what a man earned in 2015. Nearly all women in almost every line of work are paid less than a man including women who have attended universities and colleges, attained advanced degrees and acquired excellent job experience, according to recent research analyzed by the Association of American University Women (“AAUW”). And in some cases, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education. Many times, women do not know they are paid less than their male counterparts.
Since taking office, President Obama has made equal pay a top priority and has taken a number of steps to fight for pay equity. On Equal Pay Day 2016, President Obama will mark the day by granting national monument status to the house that served as the National Women’s Party headquarters since 1929. In addition to signing his first piece of legislation as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, President Obama has created the National Equal Pay Task Force, called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, issued an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss or inquire about their compensation, and worked with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to better target enforcement of equal pay laws though enhanced employer reporting of pay data.
Equal pay for women should not be a political issue. It should be a reality for all women. Yet, in 2016 on average, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job. And Latina women come in last, making only 54 cents to every dollar a man earns. African American women make 64 cents. Opponents of the gender pay gap cite many reasons why women may earn less than a man for the same position, including that many women take disproportionately lesser paying jobs in female dominated fields. That argument does not explain why most women in male dominated professions still earn less than a man for doing the same work, according to the Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.
In the field of law, the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Task Force on Gender Equity determined that the legal profession is subject to its own gender inequality in pay. Former ABA President Laurel Bellows stated in addressing the issue:
“Female lawyers are not immune to pay disparities. Many of us have watched as male colleagues have advanced their careers and earnings in ways that we have been denied because of nothing more than implicit bias. Female equity partners in the 200 largest firms, who do comparable work to men, earn 89 percent of the compensation of their male peers.”
In the April, 2014 print edition of Essence Magazine, I tell my personal story of how, I was offered and paid substantially less annually for an attorney position, at a now defunct law firm, than a male co-worker and friend who had declined the job. When my co-worker turned down the offer, he told me about the open position including his salary offer. I was sure I would receive the same offer because if anything my credentials, experience and education were superior to his resume. To my surprise, as a woman of color, I was offered thousands of dollars less than he was offered for the same job. The difference of my friend being a white man made all the difference. I believe the firm provided me a lower salary offer because of what former ABA President Laurel Bellows calls “implicit bias.” And I am also sure they were not aware that my friend had told me of his salary offer. And that’s the case often with the gender pay gap. Women don’t usually know other co-workers’ salaries. That would be made easier with passing a Paycheck Fairness Act. Retiring Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (D.MD) has fought tirelessly over the years for the passing of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Earning less on a job follows women to other jobs. It’s not like you can tell your next employer, assuming a woman knows of the lower pay, that she should be paid more because her previous job paid her less money than her male counterparts. Over years the difference in pay adds up until the point where a woman cannot make up the difference. The pay gap costs a woman at least $400,000 over the course of their work life, according to AAUW Executive Director and CEO Linda D. Hallman, CAE.
Unfortunately once again this year, the paychecks for many women still remain the same—less than a man for the same job.