Cathy Standiford, Soroptimist International of the Americas
On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. Congress passed this law to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.” As much as we like to believe progress has been made to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work, 50 years later women still earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why, 50 years later, we are still advocating for pay equity.
Sadly, the gender pay gap is not unique to the United States. Depending on the country, women may receive 10% to 60% less than their male counterparts, and the wage gap is significantly greater in developing countries where there are fewer protections. But according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, out of 19 countries with membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. has the largest gender earnings gap, followed by Austria and Switzerland. That’s pitiful.
A variety of factors are often blamed for our ongoing pay inequity. They include assertions that women “choose” to earn less than men by gravitating towards careers that pay less, by working part-time or taking career breaks to raise their family. Women’s educational choices also are frequently blamed, even though there are as many women in college today as there are men. But a 2007 report by the National Women’s Law Center points out that there is still an unexplained gap between wages for men and women that cannot be explained by our choices or family situation. That unexplained factor is most likely to be discrimination, pure and simple.
I continue to believe that, despite these factors, women and girls will one day achieve pay equity. To do that, we must continue to push for greater access to education, laws that make it easier for working women with families to navigate the life-work balance, and more analysis of the factors contributing to pay inequity and how to overcome them. As women, we also need to become more skilled at negotiating for the pay we deserve (something Sheryl Sanders describes well in her book, “Lean In”).
Soroptimist International of the Americas is committed to helping women achieve greater access to education through its Women’s Opportunity Awards, a cash grant for women trying to improve their economic status through education or vocational training. If you’d like to get more involved in advocacy efforts related to equal pay, or learn more about how to support access to education through the Women’s Opportunity Awards, visit www.liveyourdream.org. Soroptimist also has developed a white paper on the gender wage gap that is worth reading.
Women and girls shouldn’t have to wait any longer for equal pay. Together, we can ensure that 50 years from now, the pay inequities that exist today are history.
Writrten by Cathy Standiford