Equal Pay Day is a time to acknowledge the pay discrimination that still robs women of equal pay and the societal pressures that discourage women from negotiating a higher starting salary. We must make it a priority to pass legislation that will ensure equal pay and family-friendly workplaces, including a federal law to require national paid family and sick leave.
I wrote an editorial on this that was published in Teen Vogue today. I hope you’ll read it and pass it on to your friends. We’ve come a long way, but the fight for equal pay is far from over.
More than 50 years ago, Congresswoman Edith Green introduced the Equal Pay Act in the United States Congress to ensure that men and women would be paid the same wages for the same work. After months of delay, Green went looking for the bill to make sure that it hadn’t disappeared. Eventually, she learned that her bill was in the office of a committee chairman — filed under “B,” for “Broads.”
We’ve come a long way since then. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law, which helped reduce the sizable gap between men’s and women’s wages. Decades later, the very first bill President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to make it easier for women to challenge unequal pay.
Yet today, as we mark the day signifying how far into the year a woman must work to earn what a man made last year — Equal Pay Day — the fight for equal pay is far from over.
Across the country, women still make just 80 cents for every dollar their male coworkers make. A 20-year-old woman today would lose $418,800 in wages over her career compared with a male counterpart. That means a woman would have to work until she was 70 to earn as much as a male colleague made by age 60. If current trends continue, women can expect to finally earn the same as their male colleagues — by 2152.
Pay disparities are even more alarming for women of color. Black women make only 63 cents for every dollar a white man makes. That works out to $840,040 in lost wages by the end of their careers. Latinas make just 54 cents on that same dollar — translating to more than $1 million in lost wages over the course of a lifetime. To earn what white men earn by age 60, black and Latina women would have to work until they’re 80 or 90.
Equal pay isn’t only about fairness and justice for women in the workforce. It’s about justice for families. Four out of 10 mothers are their family’s primary or only wage earner, meaning that today “B” stands not for “Broad” but for “Breadwinner.” Less money in a woman’s pocket means less money to pay for gas and groceries. It means less for childcare and college tuition. And, because the pay gap persists after leaving the workforce, it means less for retirement.
The United States was founded on the principle of equality. In 2017, people who do the exact same job — whether that’s a lawyer or a shift worker — should be paid the same regardless of their gender.
So what more can be done?
First, let’s acknowledge the societal pressures that discourage women from negotiating a higher starting salary or knocking on a boss’s door to ask for a raise. One study found that while half of men negotiated for their salary, only 1 out of 8 women did. So let’s encourage women to advocate for themselves in spite of what society may say.
As a United States senator, my salary is determined by law. But as the daughter of a working mother in a male-dominated field, I’ve seen firsthand the fight to be treated equally in the workplace. And I know we can’t afford to be held back by outdated ideas of women being “pushy” or “not being a team player.” As the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie advised a friend on raising her daughter, “Teach her to stand for what is hers.”
Second, employers must step up. Take Salesforce, a software company based in San Francisco, which initiated a company-wide review of salaries by pay, job responsibilities, location, and educational level. When they found unexplained pay inequalities, they adjusted salaries. This move affected 6% of Salesforce’s 17,000 employees, cost $3 million, and didn’t stop Salesforce from posting impressive revenue growth last year. A number of other companies, including Apple and Facebook, have taken similar steps. More should follow their example.
Third, we need to demand and pass laws that ensure fair pay and family-friendly workplaces. My home state of California has one of the best equal pay laws in the country, including requirements to reduce disparities across racial and ethnic lines. We can still do better, but I’m encouraged that California’s 14 cent wage gap is now among the 10 smallest in the nation.
Congress should follow California’s lead and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would build on Congresswoman Green’s original 1963 law. It would require employers to demonstrate that wage differences are not due to gender, and crack down on employers who break the rules or punish employees for seeking to be paid equally.
But equal pay is only one part of the solution. We should also pass a federal law to require national paid family and sick leave. Caring for a sick family member falls disproportionately on women, but women — especially in low-wage jobs — often cannot take time off without losing badly-needed wages or risking their jobs. In the 21st century, women who work shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of themselves or a loved one and putting food on the table.
Recently, I received a note from an eighth-grade girl in San Jose, California. “My classmates and I are taught to work hard,” she wrote. “Would it be right for my male classmates to receive higher grades than me when I earn the same test scores they do?” Our daughters should not grow up believing that their work is worth less than a man’s. It’s time to end this fundamental unfairness. It’s time to make equal pay a reality for all Americans.
Thank you for reading my editorial,
U.S. Senator, California