Becka: Hi, Fatima! Thanks so much for sitting and chatting with me about Equal Pay. I feel like this has been such a long and uphill battle. Where does the fight for equal pay stand right now?
Fatima: Since we passed the Equal Pay Act, the wage gap has narrowed by 18 cents. And there has been some clear progress – no longer will you see separate gender-based pay classifications, for example. But the wage gap has not budged for a decade, so there is serious work to do.
Fifty years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act is a great time to look at where we are – assess how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.
Becka: What are some of the major causes that contribute to the issue of unequal pay?
Fatima: Women are still paid less for the same job, and it’s impossible in some spaces to get salary information. Some workplaces actual ban women from talking about their own wages. Women are concentrated in occupations that pay less. There are also a number of barriers to higher, paid traditionally male jobs. And there is a continuing penalty for caregivers – studies have shown that women who are mothers are paid less than men who are fathers.
Becka: What are the next steps to passing Equal Pay?
Fatima: If policy makers focused on at least one of these pieces – closing loopholes and better enforcement of equal wage laws, increasing minimum wage – it would be a great first step. The fact that it is impossible to get wage and salary information in some places is a real problem – employees shouldn’t be penalized or retaliated against simply for trying to see where they stand. Take Lilly Ledbetter’s case – she only found out about the inequality in her pay versus her male counterparts when someone broke Goodyear’s policy banning workers from discussing their salaries.
Becka: What would you say is the biggest obstacle to closing the gap?
Fatima: There really are no factors that are insurmountable – I think we can finally begin to make progress on the wage gap. But we will have battle against the misinformation about the wage gap. We have spent a tremendous amount of time debating whether there is a problem at all in the face of the fact that there is a gap and that it hasn’t changed in 10 years.
Women are continually paid less for the same jobs. Studies have shown that the wage gap starts early and only expands and deepens over time across the board. We can slice and dice the data endlessly, but you can’t make the wage gap go away – no matter how you cut it, it’s there.
Becka: Recently, there has been a huge amount of media attention around Marissa Mayer and her workplace policies at Yahoo, such as her decision to not take maternity leave and her new policy regarding not allowing employees to work at home. Do you think that this might contribute to unequal pay? How does this apply to your experiences as a working parent with young children?
Fatima: Well, my son – believe it or not – has scarlet fever right now.
Becka: Really?! Oh no!
Fatima: I know – I didn’t even think that it still existed! But it has been extremely helpful for me to have the ability to work from home. Technology today has presented a range of options for parents. There is a reason that there has been a backlash in the public for anything that makes it harder for working parents to be working parents.
There is no question that motherhood plays into the wage gap. The gap is in part reflective of the fact that women have children. And studies have shown that working mothers are offered lower salaries than working fathers, who make more than women with children and men without children. The old breadwinner stereotypes still persist in salary decision making.
That said, I’m troubled by the focus on the plight of the elite working mother (not that I’m so elite) – it’s tough, of course, for anyone to manage the challenges of work and life, but my obstacles cannot compare to women who are in low-wage jobs that lack what really should be basics, like paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and work schedules over which they have some modicum of control.
Becka: So what would you say to people who want to get involved in the fight for Equal Pay? How should they go about that?
Fatima: No matter what the level of time commitment it is that you can give, there is a way for you to get involved – participate in a tweet chat, give your representative in Congress a call, write a letter to the editor of your local paper, blog – whatever you can do to get the word out and voice your support for the issue.