My 1.54 Cents on the Equal Pay Debate


pennyHere’s my two cents on the issue of equal pay in the US workforce—actually, that would be my 1.54 cents based on my gender and the fact that women still earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. In June 2013, the Association for Women in Science ran a series of blog posts in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, emphasizing that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) earn on average 14% less than men in the same disciplines. Although pay for women has improved since enactment of the Equal Pay Act, it is far from equal pay for equal work. However, this issue expands beyond gender disparity to any minority populations in a workforce who are unequally compensated. For example, gender disparity also affects men who work in fields dominated by women where the wages have been set at a lower standard (e.g., administrative services).

Recent legislation efforts focused on solving unequal pay issues include the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to prove that their pay scales are set by factors independent of gender and permit private sector employees to share salary information. Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act argue that businesses will see an increase in lawsuits resulting from the new legislation because the law would allow for compensatory pay in cases of gender discrimination. This assumption seems to be based on far-fetched scare tactics to convince American voters that equal pay legislation will cost the taxpayer and business owner more money. In my view, employers who take a proactive approach to ensure that their hiring and pay practices are free of biases are actually protected because the possibility of a pay discrimination case would be unfounded in court.

How can you help support these equal pay efforts?

1. Send a note to your representatives asking them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act and similar legislation. A quick email option is available using the American Civil Liberties Union’s website.

2. Read more on how you can help support equal pay efforts from the National Committee on Pay Equity. Plus, take the time to discuss equal pay issues with friends, family and colleagues, as issue awareness leads to change.

3. Stand up for your rights–if you may be a victim of pay discrimination based on sex, race or other characteristics then contact your human resources department and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Council to file a complaint. Remember, pay discrimination extends to compensation other than just the amount of your paycheck, including job assignments and fringe benefits.

4. If you are a hiring manager, consistently evaluate your company’s policies on setting pay scales for new employees and promotions. Suggestions for fair pay practices can be found online at the Department of Labor and the National Committee on Pay Equity.

**Discussion Point: What other ways can employers help ensure equal pay practices?**

7 thoughts on “My 1.54 Cents on the Equal Pay Debate

  1. Dave S. says:

    Agreed, great title and great post. This is a topic that just drive me nuts. It’s 2013 for Pete’s sake!!! Why is this still happening.

    • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

      Dave, that’s a great question – I think many people are unaware that such issues in the workforce still exist because people tend to avoid the conversation or women are hesitant to file discriminatory claims in fear of backlash. I would encourage everyone to discuss these issues within their professional and social circles. Also, I feel that fathers of young girls could be the biggest advocates for equal pay rights. Please share this article to spread the word!

  2. Kitty McCracken says:

    One problem with the equal pay issue here at the lab is that workers are told not to share their salary information with their coworkers. In this case, it is hard to know if there is a gender bias in salaries. Also, when a salary range within a specific job band on a job category ladder covers many thousands of dollars, people with the same job description can get hugely different salaries.

    • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

      Kitty, I am so glad that you brought up this important point about the difficulty of even knowing whether pay discrimination exists or not within an organization – this is why legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act is so important because it would allow employees to compare salaries without fear of reprisal by their employer.

      Salary information for government employees is considered public information. States often have online databases with salaries freely available to the public (e.g., State of TN salary info at https://apps.tn.gov/salary/). Other databases on federal employee salaries have been compiled through Freedom of Information Act requests (e.g., http://www.app.com/section/DATA). This information is not available for employees in positions that are sensitive (e.g., security personnel).

      Issues arise when government agencies outsource to contractors (such as in the case of when you refer to “lab” in the general term of a government research lab that uses a contractor to run its operations), which often hides information behind different reporting requirements. However, non-profit organizations are required to report their top earners’ salaries to the IRS each year. In addition, the Freedom of Information Act and other state information disclosure acts may apply to these contractors in releasing such salary data upon request. I am still learning about this legislation and hope to share this information in the future with readers, so they can be armed with knowing their rights.

      For the point that you make on salary ranges, I think it is really important for employees to negotiate their salary at hiring even if the offer seems “good”. Sites such as http://www.glassdoor.com can help to get an idea of what the salary range might be for a particular position, and all these other online databases can be a starting point for base salary. I haven’t played much with these sites to evaluate their relevance in the negotiation process yet, but it would be very interesting to examine.

      Additionally, compensation also includes other benefits (e.g., job assignments, professional development and education benefits), and these items need to be negotiated at the point of hire. These fringe benefits also need to be taken into consideration when looking at whether pay disparities exist among employees in the same position.

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