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Here’s What Women Need To Know About Securing Their Fair Share Of Income

by Mekita Rivas

April 4, 2017

Today is Equal Pay Day, a symbolic occasion that marks the moment when women’s pay finally “catches up” to the wages men took home in the previous year. The three-month delay serves as an annual reminder that despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and being more educated than their male counterparts, women still haven’t achieved pay equity. Though estimates vary, it’s generally agreed that women working full time in the United States are still paid about 80 percent of what men are paid (with numbers looking even worse for many women of color).

In September, the American Association of University Women estimated that if progress remains constant, the gender wage gap won’t close until 2152. So last week, when President Trump revoked workplace protections put in place under Obama’s 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, there were rumblings that the 135-year wait for pay equity may be pushed back even longer.

Yet despite a number of recent disappointments, the status of equal pay in America right now isn’t hopeless. Here’s what you need to know.

The Trump Factor

During the campaign, then-candidate Trump actually appeared to support equal pay, at least in principle. Here’s a Trump quote to file away for the future: “If they do the same job, they should get the same pay.” When he said this on a 2015 episode of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, his support appeared to be genuine—until he qualified it by adding, “It’s very hard to say what is the same job.”

If they do the same job, they should get the same pay … It’s very hard to say what is the same job.

In his February presidential address, Trump declared that helping women in the workforce would be a top priority for him: “I am committed to ensuring that women entrepreneurs have equal access to the capital, markets, and networks of support that they need, and I mean really need.” 

Of course, such statements ring a bit hollow, given that his administration deleted the White House webpage on the subject on Inauguration Day. (If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can give the Obama-era version of the page a read any time).

But what about Ivanka Trump—first daughter, newly appointed assistant to the president, and longtime proponent of equal pay, childcare, and maternity leave? Though she’s frequently touted as a major influence on her father, and expressed support for Equal Pay Day on Twitter, whether she’ll follow through on her signature issue is murky at best.

Private Sector Status

Late last week, a coalition of business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announded they would be targeting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s requirement that big employers report pay data based on race, gender, and ethnicity—ignoring arguments from the previous administration that doing so would aid federal investigations of possible pay discrimination, while incentivizing employers to examine their pay practices. The coalition views it as regulatory overreach and has asked Trump’s budget office to review and reject the requirement.

Yet, as of December, 100 major corporations took a stand for fair pay—including AT&T, eBay, Apple, Square, and Yahoo—when they signed the Equal Pay Pledge in conjunction with President Obama. Their commitment appears relatively secure, especially given additional support from major influencers in the business world, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s announcement on Tuesday that his company would spend $3 million to fix a pay gap currently affecting over 10 percent of its employees.

Lasting Legislative Progress

To be clear, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the Paycheck Fairness Act, intended to update the loophole-riddled Equal Pay Act of 1963. The act was repeatedly blocked by Republicans, and is unlikelier to pass in a GOP-controlled House and Senate. 

In August, Massachusetts passed what some advocates laud as the strongest equal pay law in the country to date.

But despite that setback, a number of equal pay advances were pushed through under the Obama administration that will take quite a lot of political time and energy to unravel—particularly the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows employees to file lawsuits regarding equal pay for up to 180 days after a discriminatory paycheck. And while proactive equal pay policies at the federal level are in legislative limbo, several states are tackling the issue individually in the hopes of leveling the playing field for everyone. 

Maryland expanded its equal pay law last year, adding provisions that prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who discuss their wages and from providing less favorable advancement opportunities to women. What’s more, the law transcended partisanship: It was passed by a Democratic-majority legislature and signed by Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

In August 2016, Massachusetts passed what some advocates laud as the strongest equal pay law in the country to date. It’s groundbreaking because it prevents employers from requiring applicants to disclose salary history, which could be a game changer for women. If a female applicant has been paid less than her male counterparts to do comparable work in previous jobs—and future employers use her salary history as a baseline to determine what she’ll be paid in subsequent jobs—that financial shortfall leads to a cycle of pay inequity that will likely last throughout her career.

Even traditionally deep red states are demanding change. Mississippi is one of two states that doesn’t offer any equal pay protections beyond what’s required by federal law (Alabama is the other). A public call for action by Mississippi State Treasurer Lynn Fitch and stalled bills have renewed interest in the issue, and equal pay advocates are more vocal than ever.

Personal Success Strategies

In the meantime, women can take matters into their own hands by learning how to negotiate their salaries. Organizations such as the American Association of University Women and Lean In offer ongoing workshops, tools, and resources that empower women to negotiate what they’re worth.

It’s a small step in the right direction, though it puts the onus on women themselves to fight for their fair share which often results in unintended consequences. Still, negotiation is a valuable skill for every employee—and women can get some practice asking for a raise by using a new Facebook chatbot launched Tuesday by sex tech pioneer Cindy Gallop.

Meanwhile, with #EqualPayDay trending, women should head to Twitter for even more creative approaches.

Image via Facebook. Preview image via Wikimedia Commons.

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