Pay Equity Requires Concerted Efforts

The Virginian-Pilot.

Women make up half the workforce, but inequalities in pay compared to men have persisted in spite of the decades-old Fair Pay Act.

Women earn less than men in comparable positions, even at similar education levels, even with similar years of service, in almost every job.

Sometimes that disparity is the result of discrimination.

Finding ways to equalize compensation — and eliminate discrimination through pay — is a worthy pursuit.

President Barack Obama signed two orders last week on wage equity. One bars federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss pay. The other would establish Labor Department rules for federal contractors to provide compensation data by race and gender.

Viewed through a partisan prism, it continues Democrats’ accusations that Republicans are waging a “war on women.”

Obama’s orders coincided with legislation pending in the Senate that would make it easier to sue companies that pay women less because of their gender. Republicans prevented the bill from moving forward.

But there is undeniable value in casting sunlight on wages in the workplace to root out pay disparity, intentional or not.

It’s hard to fix a problem without information. Co-workers should be able to compare wages without fear of retribution. Companies throughout the United States should open their books and assess employee pay. If gender pay disparity exists, figure out why. If that analysis shows that equally qualified women make less than their male counterparts, fix it.

For example, Boston began a campaign to examine pay data, looking for gender compensation disparity. Companies voluntarily open their books for examination and agree to share that information for two years to assess progress.

Balancing pay for men and women is not only about weekly wages. Workplace policies that make it harder for women to advance, or to return to work after the birth of a child, or to take time off to care for a family member, affect women’s salaries.

Some women choose to stay at home or take time off because they cannot find affordable, quality child care.

Companies that invest in recruiting women to high-level positions, adopt flexible family leave policies and provide or subsidize child care secure a more diverse, qualified work force.

Addressing this longstanding imbalance between men’s and women’s earnings will take a concerted effort. That effort must include openness and payroll examination.

Ignoring it means it definitely will not go away.

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