Today, President Obama is supposed to press Congress on the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, which is supposed to empower women and help close the wage gap. Currently, women earn 77 cents to every male dollar. Although I respect President Obama’s goal of empowering women, this act gives me reservations, but also some hope. I’m skeptical because I’m not sure it will be entirely successful and I don’t particularly like the shift in responsibility for wage equality that this implies, but I do look forward to an age in which we can talk openly about salaries. After all, LearnVest is all about getting rid of the taboo surrounding money so that we can all speak openly and be well-informed.
I’m Not Convinced That The Paycheck Fairness Act Will Make A Big Difference
Maybe somewhat. This bill doesn’t mandate or enforce pay equality through federal action; instead, it empowers women who want to sue for equal pay. Previous precedent supports the rights of women suing for back pay (via the Lilly Ledbetter Act), but this proposed bill would treat gender-based wage discrimination the same way as wage discrimination based on race, which would allow women to sue for extra damages in addition to back pay. While I think that this is a good move—treating wage discrimination equally across the board—I can’t imagine that it will have a massive difference across the board. After all, this means that women have more right to damages when they sue, but are the majority of women really going to sue for gender disparity? How many of them even know that they’re making less than their male coworkers? Suing requires money, lawyer’s fees, the willingness to burn bridges, and a huge effort. By itself, I don’t think that this bill will make a tremendous difference.
“You’re Not Getting Paid Equally? Well, You’re Going To Have To Sue, Then”
Although there’s something undeniably empowering about suing for your rights and standing up for your own fair pay, an ideal world wouldn’t require women to fight simply to earn fair pay. The problem with this act is that it implies that the onus of fairness is now upon women to bring up suits. Not everyone has the money, energy, strength, and freedom to do this. Although it’s great to get back pay, the sad truth is that suing is often more about a statement than about real money. After all, you have to pay attorneys, at least until and unless you win the case and the settlement includes attorney’s fees. Staging such a lawsuit often requires education and means; we shouldn’t feed into our litigious society by simply adding to existing lawsuits. Although some may argue that the heightened risk of lawsuits should encourage employers to pay everyone fairly in order to avoid a suit, the bald truth is that the employers who aren’t already on board probably won’t flock to make changes because of this small change in legislation.
One Of The Biggest Factors In Wage Disparity Is That Women Simply Don’t Negotiate As Much
One of the most valuable points that comes out of this proposed legislation is that employers are no longer allowed to penalize employees for discussing salary. At LearnVest, we’re all about openness around money—especially since one of the big reasons women don’t negotiate for more money is because they are less likely to make waves and don’t know how much they could be worth. Employers can get away with paying employees unequal amount when those employees are unaware. But, taboos surrounding money talk benefit employers far more than employees. My hope is that, as women see the wage disparity for themselves and in their own lives, rather than knowing about it as a vague fact, they’ll be more inspired to fight for their worth.
And that negotiation can take place aboveboard and involve what you’re really, truly worth—rather than the threat of a lawsuit.