Weird News

4 ways you can join the fight to support equal pay

It’s 2020. 3D printers can make prosthetic limbs. Our computers can predict what we’re going to type before we do it. And women across the country still don’t receive equal pay for equal work. 

Currently, Black women make $0.62 cents to the dollar compared to white men. Latinas make $0.55 cents, Native American women make $0.60 cents, and Asian American women make $0.90 cents in the same comparison, according to analysis of 2019 U.S. Census data from Equal Pay Today

On average, full-time working women in the U.S. make $0.82 cents compared to all men in the U.S. 

“When people hear 82 cents on the dollar, they might think, ‘Well, that’s only 18 cents less,’ but over a lifetime, that adds up,” Andrea Johnson, director of state policy for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), says. Analysis from the NWLC estimates that over a 40-year career, Black women lose $946,120 and Latinas lose $1,121,440 because of the wage gap. (Yes, million.) 

For many women, that makes for lost earnings that would have gone to essentials like groceries and childcare, Johnson explains. 

Let’s get the rest of the bad news out there: The World Economic Forum has predicted that on a global scale, women won’t get equal pay for 257 years. 

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help close the gap. 

We talked to Johnson as well as Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization of Women, and C. Nicole Mason, the president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about the importance of equal pay — and how we can all advocate for it on a wide scale. Here’s what they had to say. 

1.  Clear up any misconceptions. (Start with yourself.)

For all the simplicity behind the idea of equal pay — getting equal pay for equal work — there are misconceptions that might pop up for skeptics and supporters alike. Before you take any sort of action for equal pay, it’s crucial that you make sure you’re fully and accurately informed about what’s going on. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about the gender wage gap is exceedingly simplistic: “That it’s not real,” Mason said. People often try to explain it away, arguing that it’s due to essentially “anything you can think of that’s gendered.” 

For instance, people might argue that women are paid less en masse because they “choose” to go into lower-earning fields. And, while it’s accurate that women are more likely than men to work in lower-earning fields (this has a nuanced history in itself), it’s not simply a matter of personal choice. Further, as women enter previously male-dominated fields, research finds the average pay for everyone within that field tends to decline. And, when men and women are working in the same field, the wage gap persists: Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in almost all occupations, according to analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

“It’s not like ‘he takes blood and she takes blood pressure so they get paid differently,'” Mason says of unequal pay within industries. She maintains arguments like that obscure what’s really going on: a chronic, systemic undervaluing of women and their work. “Pay equity is not accidental. It’s systemic and institutional,” Mason says. “It doesn’t just happen. Individual women can’t solve it alone.” 

“Pay equity is not accidental. It doesn’t just happen. Individual women can’t solve it alone.” 

That brings us to another big misconception. Often, note Nunes and Johnson, conversations about equal pay focus on the individual. The logic goes that if women want equal pay at work, they just need to hone their negotiating skills to get paid what they’re worth. 

While it’s true that negotiating your salary could potentially have great personal benefits on a small scale, for women in low wage or otherwise vulnerable jobs, that likely isn’t accessible, Johnson explains. 

It’s also placing blame in the wrong place, they both argue. Rather than putting the burden of getting equal pay on the victims of pay discrimination, Johnson argues for “shifting the onus on employers to prove they’re paying people fairly. Make employers do the math.” When it comes to undoing the wage gap, “that’s the responsibility of the employer, not the woman needing to be better at negotiating,” Nunes adds. 

It’s not always talked about that way, though, and Nunes, Mason, and Johnson want more people to understand just how structural the gender wage gap is. “People might take it as a personal failing if they’re being paid less,” Johnson says, adding that women might think they “didn’t negotiate hard enough” or just weren’t “good enough.” 

“The reason it’s so hard to tackle is because it’s baked into our systems and structures,” Mason says. “That’s what makes it really hard for us to try to overcome or tackle it.” 

2. Learn about what it will take to fix it, from policies to equal pay laws, increased transparency, and more.

For an issue as pervasive and systemic as unequal pay, Johnson maintains that wide-reaching solutions are needed. “The wage gap has been stagnant for decades,” Johnson says. “We need to think big.” Accordingly, fighting for equal pay first takes educating yourself on the many mechanisms that could help close the wage gap. 

On the widest scale, Johnson, Mason, and Nunes point to the same policy solution: the Paycheck Fairness Act. Introduced in 2017, it has passed in the House and would add protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was intended to prohibit wage discrimination based on gender. 

The Paycheck Fairness Act would put the burden on employers to justify why someone is being paid less and protect workers who inquire about wage practices. But it’s currently largely stalled in the Senate, which means it’s time to urge your politicians to act by talking to them about what matters to you. (More on how to do that below.) 

The Paycheck Fairness Act, though, is far from the only policy that could get us closer to equal pay.

With the exception of Mississippi, all states have some kind of equal pay or pay equity law in place, Johnson points out. She says there’s been “an immense amount of momentum to strengthen” these laws from advocates — and that’s another part of the puzzle. For equal pay laws to improve, they should focus on targeting things we know have a hand in perpetuating the wage gap. 

It’s thought that when employers ask about salary history, those who have historically faced pay inequity are disadvantaged yet again.

One example of this is asking the question, “What did you make in your previous job?” within the application process. It’s thought that when employers ask about salary history, those who have historically faced pay inequity on the basis of race, sex, national origin, age, religion, or disability status are disadvantaged yet again. In fact, recent research found that salary history bans increased the pay for those changing jobs by around 5 percent, and women and Black job changers saw even higher increased pay (at 8 percent and 13 percent respectively). Fourteen states have prohibited the salary history question in the last three years.

Another space where reform could happen is “just around transparency.” Johnson applauds state-wide efforts to ensure salary range is provided within job announcements as well. Research has shown that the gender wage gap shrinks when job applicants are equipped with information about negotiations, such as what compensation or benefits are flexible. 

Policies like these are a start, but, as Johnson notes, there’s really no shortage of measures that could be put in place to make equal pay closer to a reality. Check out research from policy-focused groups and organizations to see what recommendations they’ve put out with respect to closing the gender wage gap. 

Even something like raising the minimum wage could be a “massive” mechanism for closing the gender wage gap, since many women, and particularly women of color, work minimum wage jobs, Johnson explains. 

3. Find out how to contact your representatives, and get in touch to share your story.

Once you have a better sense of the relevant solutions, your job becomes a bit more straightforward: Take your demands to those in power. 

No matter your own identity, there’s likely someone in your life who has been impacted by the gender wage gap. When Mason thinks about equal pay, she does so in personal terms and encourages others to do the same: “For me, I’m a Black woman. The gap is a bit larger. My daughter and her daughters won’t see pay equity in their lifetimes.” She notes that her daughter is “optimistic and bright-eyed” about her future, and Mason’s motivation for working to close the gender wage gap stems from a desire to ensure her daughter has the future she deserves. 

Use your experiences to convey why equal pay is important to you, Nunes says. With the action that’s happened on a state level concerning equal pay, Johnson also stresses “your voice can go a long way,” particularly when contacting state representatives. Informing elected officials of your personal connection to unequal pay can be used to advocate for any of the many policies that might narrow the wage gap, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, salary history bans, or calls for an increased minimum wage. And the policies enacted at a state level can set an example for national policy. 

For information about contacting your representatives, look here. Information about contacting other elected officials can be found here. And here’s a handy guide for how to craft your message most effectively. 

The policies enacted at a state level can set an example for national policy. 

Look into where your representatives stand on issues relating to equal pay by checking their own webpages or social media platforms, and make sure you learn about your state’s equal pay policy as well. 

There are plenty of organizations and campaigns already mobilizing around equal pay. The National Committee on Pay Equity, the organization behind Equal Pay Day, has information about what you can do to get involved with their efforts, for instance. 

And even though you’ve heard it over and over, Nunes wants to drill one other thing home: Vote. 

By voting, you can determine what kind of policy gets enacted by electing candidates who are going to fight for equal pay. Nunes and Johnson explain that you need to look carefully at candidates’ platforms to ensure they’re actually interested in enacting intersectional solutions. 

“Don’t accept someone’s generic equal pay policy,” Nunes says. Solutions aren’t siloed: She suggests paying attention to how inclusive and intersectional a candidate’s overall platform is to determine if they’re the type who sees equal pay as connected to other issues, such as raising minimum wage or providing paid leave. 

Johnson adds that you should look for candidates who aren’t talking about women as a monolith. Candidates serious about championing equal pay need to address how race impacts wage gaps, which includes talking about and presenting solutions specifically catered to the needs of women of color, for instance. 

4. Have the hard conversations, including talking to your friends. 

Your work in support of equal pay doesn’t need to stop with direct advocacy. There are everyday conversations to be had that might get more people to understand the pervasiveness and entrenched nature of the gender wage gap.  

Even as Nunes maintains the need for wide-scale change, she also notes the importance of having conversations with friends about salary, benefits, and pay to normalize the open discussion of these things. She wants people to drive home the systemic changes that are necessary for narrowing the wage gap. “Really encourage everyone [that] it’s not an individual change that has to happen,” Nunes says. “It’s an economic justice issue, so we need national solutions.” 

“The issue is that you can have a good policy on the books, and there’s no enforcement,” Mason adds. Accordingly, she explains “we also have to shift the culture, and that takes a lot of time.” 

“We also have to shift the culture, and that takes a lot of time.” 

She also wants to see people having open and honest conversations about finances. “Women have suffered in silence on a lot of this stuff,” Mason said of the wage gap and unequal pay. “For a lot of reasons, women don’t talk about money, because we’ve been made to feel bad about it.” 

Mason adds that conversations with friends don’t need to revolve around telling them to advocate for themselves at work, or how to negotiate for better pay. Instead, she suggests that women merely start a conversation about equal pay as a concept with those around them. 

“It’s a tough conversation to have, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also worth it,” Mason says. Still, she maintains, “the bottom line is we can’t do it by ourselves. We need policy change, and for businesses to listen.” 

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

three × five =

Send this to a friend