The pay gap is still a stubborn problem, with women who work full
time year-round making 77 cents to a man's dollar. Though it
consistently polls No. 1 with female voters in election years,
politicians don't seem motivated to do much about it.
say pay disparities between women and men are an illusion -- women
just like to choose jobs that pay less because they're not as risky
or have shorter hours. But the data doesn't back up these claims.
Even when researchers take into account such factors as part-time
work or time out of the work force to care for kids, the numbers
show that men make more. Another problem that just won't go away is
that so-called "men's jobs," like plumbing, pay more than "women's
jobs," like nursing. That tells us something about what we value as
a society, and it's not women's work.
The Fair Pay Act, a bill that would help narrow the gap, has
grown old bouncing around Capitol Hill since the early 1990s, never
receiving as much as a hearing. If the Fair Pay Act ever passed, it
would require employers to rate their jobs on skill, effort,
responsibility and working conditions, and equalize pay for
comparable jobs even if the job titles and duties are different.
Employers naturally resist this, citing loss of "competitive
advantage," but women's advocates suspect the real reason is that
the numbers would be too damning. Women might even get big ideas
like suing their employers for sex discrimination in pay and
promotion, as female workers at Wal-Mart have done in the largest
class-action suit in history.
A new book released this month from Feminist Press -- "Taking on
the Big Boys," by Ellen Bravo, longtime chief executive officer of
9to5, an advocacy organization for working women -- attacks the pay
equity issue head-on. Bravo enlightens the reader in a no-nonsense
way on deep-seated workplace attitudes and practices that hinder
women's progress on the pay front. More importantly, she shows us
how public policy is influenced through a variety of tactics used by
opponents. One such tactic is "catastrophizing," meaning predicting
the downfall of capitalism as we know it if women catch up with men
in earnings. Poster boy for this tactic is Chief Justice John
Roberts, who dismissed the concept in the Fair Pay Act as a
"pernicious" redistribution of wealth, saying, "Their slogan may as
well be 'From each according to his ability, to each according to
her gender.'" Pretty scary stuff for the women of Wal-Mart, should
their case, now on appeal, reach the Supreme Court.
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"Taking on the Big Boys" shows us how continued monitoring and
enforcement will be necessary, even for companies that want to do
better. The Fair Pay Act also contains a provision that would
require companies to report earnings by race and gender in each job
category -- not anybody's salary on a bulletin board, but just
overall statistics, so women could see how they were faring compared
with the guys in the company overall.
While there's no law now that says companies have to disclose how
they pay and promote their workers, there's no law that says they
can't. Wal-Mart agreed last year under stockholder pressure to post
its EEO-1 form online, showing broad job categories by race and
gender (the form does not include pay data). Some disclosure is
better than none, but all companies should go a step further and
release pay data for women and men by job category, as Ben & Jerry's
has done for years. If pay scales are equitable, there should be
nothing to hide. Women could see right upfront if the company is
fair. It would eliminate the need for lawsuits and create tremendous
employee loyalty and customer good will. That ought to be worth 24
extra cents in the pay envelope.
Martha Burk is the director for the Corporate Accountability
Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations. A version
of this op-ed previously appeared on
Copyright 2007 by the
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