Kathryn Davis: Happy Equal Pay Day
April 3, 2017
Here is something I think we can all agree on — well, anyone who has ever been even partly dependent on a woman bringing home a paycheck will likely agree.
Equal Pay Day is today, April 4. This date symbolizes how much further into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. The organizers also selected a Tuesday in April as Equal Pay Day to represent how far into the next work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week. Because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay.
The wage gap is even greater for women of color. It may sound antiquated, but among full-time workers, women earn about 78 cents to a man's dollar. For some women, it's even bleaker. Black women make 64 cents and Latinas make 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. That's according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A study from the American Association of University Women showed there is a 7 percent wage gap between male and female college grads a year after graduation, even accounting for college major, occupation, age, geographical region and hours worked.
"It starts early and it accumulates over time," said Caroline Ghosn, founder and CEO of millennial-focused career startup Levo. "There's very low awareness that this is still an issue."
Economist Evelyn Murphy, president and founder of The WAGE Project, estimates that the wage gap costs the average American full-time woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her lifetime.
There is, however, some good news. The California State Commission on the Status of Women and Girls has gender equality in the workforce as a top priority. In July 2016, the Commission convened the California Pay Equity Task Force to provide a forum to encourage compliance with the California Fair Pay Act (SB 358 Jackson) and facilitate an informed understanding of the importance of gender equity in the workplace. Effective Jan. 1, 2017, in California, equal pay is required for women and men who do "substantially similar work," regardless of how their jobs are formally described. "This says you can't hide behind job titles. You have to look at what people actually do," said Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco public interest group that pushed for the change.
I worked in human resources for a very large employer for 20 years, an employer very committed to pay equity. Even then, it was not easy. Creating and maintaining equal pay required ongoing evaluation and affirmative efforts. Because of the systemic nature and long history of pay inequities, the problem would creep back into even a conscientious and vigilant employers' work environment.
So what can we do? Businesses can take the first step towards achieving pay equity by examining their pay practices to determine if they treat all employees equally. Many employers may not realize their pay scales favor white men as a result of historical and conventional biases and inconsistencies. Employers can complete a Self-Audit. This 10-step guide — https://www.pay-equity.org/cando-audit.html — helps you analyze your company's practices.
Women who are paid less than men must discuss the problem with their employer. Equal does not always mean doing the same exact job. For example, a large tire retail outlet may have pay practices that pay men more for physical labor, while a woman in the store front has extensive product knowledge, customer service skills, and management level administrative responsibilities, but is paid significantly less.
The first step is standing up for yourself and asking your employer to ensure that you are paid equitably. If there's a union, ask for their help. If discrimination persists, file a complaint with the State Dept. of Industrial Relations, http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/dlse.html, or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
As single parents, breadwinners, and partners in providing for themselves and their families, it is time for women, especially minority women, to become equal in all employers' pay practices.
Kathryn Davis lives in Grass Valley.
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