As the 2020 presidential contest heats up, exciting proposals to address our nation’s problems are being offered by individual candidates. Astead W. Herndon of the New York Times reports that Senator Kamala Harris of California recently announced a proposal to close the gender pay gap. Harris’s proposal requires larger companies with one hundred or more employees to certify every two years that women and men are paid equally. While similar laws are being passed on the state level, this proposal would combat the problem on the federal level and put teeth into enforcement not always available on the state level. Harris’s plan would fine companies that do not meet pay certification standards, which is 1 percent of their profits for every 1 percent difference in pay between women and men.
Herndon notes that previous federal legislation required employees to report or sue their employer if pay discrepancies existed—but salary information is generally kept secret by employees, and employees struggle to find out whether they are caught up in a gender pay gap. In a previous article, we wrote about a case where employees at Google had to gather pay data voluntarily from colleagues. When they found a gender pay gap, they published their spreadsheet to put pressure on their company to take action to eliminate the pay gap. Harris’s proposal will take the burden off of employees and create transparency and fairness.
Laura M. Holson of the New York Times writes that the myths surrounding secrecy about sharing salary information justify secrecy as protecting individual privacy. In fact, Holson notes, secrecy benefits companies that save money if employees underestimate their value in salary negotiations. She explains, “Managers want to keep salaries down and pay people less. It is easier if they control the information.”
But secrecy is costing women a lot. Holson cites federal statistics that find “a woman working a full-time job earns 80.7 cents for every dollar a man makes.” Herndon notes that this gap adds up to more than $400,000 in missed wages over the course of a woman’s career. She goes on to point out that the numbers are even worse for women who are racial minorities—about $1 million in missed wages over a career, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.
Holson suggests that pay standards should be set and adhered to if we are to have fair and equitable systems. Herndon cited Senator Harris as saying, “For too long, we’ve put the burden entirely on workers to hold corporations accountable for pay discrimination through costly lawsuits. . . . We’ve let corporations hide their wage gaps, but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they’ve earned.”
Let’s support a solution at the federal level for this persistent problem.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash