It’s Time to Close the Gender Pay Gap

On June 9, 2013, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published the following op-ed written by Joanna Amberger, president of AAUW of Hawaii and the Honolulu Branch of AAUW.

It’s Time to Close the Gender Pay Gap
By Joanna Amberger

For many people in my generation, it may come as shock to learn that women continue to face work-force discrimination in the form of lower wages. We don’t like to talk about money, so it takes a research report like the American Association of University Women’s The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap (2013) to reveal that, even 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, the women in Hawaii on average can expect to be paid only 82 percent of what their male colleagues are paid.

The gender pay gap is personal. For my own profession, I’ve chosen one of the hardest old boys’ clubs to try to break into: finance. According to AAUW’s report, this is the occupation with the biggest gender pay disparity, and I see the evidence firsthand. The broker dealer I use publishes an internal ranking of the top 150 representatives. A survey of that list shows only six women named, with not one in the top 10. That’s a pretty steep professional hill to climb! I’ve got my climbing gear on and I’m scaling that mountain, but there’s no reason that mountain should be so steep in today’s age.

Women’s roles have changed dramatically since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963. Women today are working to support themselves and their families. A majority of women are in the work force, and in six out of 10 families women are the primary or co-breadwinners. Hawaii families can scarcely afford to have our women earning less simply because our elected officials refuse to redress the injustice of paying workers based on gender instead of their skills and performance.

Yes, women’s roles have changed, but only marginal strides have been made in closing the gender pay gap since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law 50 years ago. Since 1970, the gender pay gap has only closed by 17 percentage points, to an average of 77 percent nationwide.

That’s because the Equal Pay Act has loopholes that make closing this wage gap difficult. The law hinders employees’ ability to learn about wage disparities and to evaluate whether they are experiencing wage discrimination. It doesn’t have any provisions preventing employers from retaliating against employees who ask about wages or share their salary information. And it makes it too easy for employers to pay different wages to male and female employees performing the same job without providing a legitimate business reason.

We need to update this important legislation to give the current generation the tools it needs to continue to close the gender pay gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act would do just that. It would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, prohibit retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to coworkers, and give employers and employees the tools they need to end unequal pay practices.

Lucky we live Hawaii. Our elected officials understand the importance of this legislation to the people of Hawaii.

Let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed for Hawaii. Let’s make sure our mothers, sisters, wives, aunties, daughters, nieces, grandmothers and granddaughters are treated with the respect they deserve and paid a fair, equal wage for the work they do.