Today is Equal Pay Day, a day to spread awareness of the fact that in 2016, women still make 79 cents to a man’s dollar, a yearly gap of $10,762. Over the course of a woman’s lifetime, unequal pay costs her more than $400,000, and that’s only if she is white. For women of color, this gap is even higher. Paying a woman less simply because she’s a woman is unacceptable and it is imperative that as a country, we remedy these embarrassing statistics and recognize that equal pay affects everyone.
I’ve worked on the issue of equal pay throughout my career as a pollster and communications strategist. One consistent finding is that while in theory Americans widely support the concept of equal pay for equal work, there has not been as much energy around actually doing something about the issue. In my opinion, one barrier to raising the salience of the issue is in its framing. Until recently, equal pay was understood as a women’s issue, often falling under the category of gender equality or women’s rights issues. But in fact, equal pay is an economic issue that affects the security of American families everywhere.
Numerous studies have shown that equal pay for women would significantly boost the American economy—in one year, the U.S. would have produced $447.6 billion more income, and the poverty rate for working women would be cut in half. The income women bring in is also increasingly critical to the financial security of family units, and when women make less that means less money for groceries, gas, rent, college tuition and other things families need. When women are held back, families—who make up the backbone of our country– are held back too.
This morning I attended a Roundtable on Pay Equality, hosted by Glassdoor, featuring Hillary Clinton, Tracy Sturdivant of Make It Work, and other leaders across the business, political, and cultural spheres. The panel participants highlighted the work that needs to be done to ensure equal pay for equal work everywhere. The first item on the agenda is passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a law that will help prevent retaliation against employees who inquire about wage practices or disclose their own pay. This law will also increase transparency and make wage data available, so that employees have the information and tools they need to advocate for equal pay.
One obstacle to making change through policy that Hillary Clinton pointed out is that we need better language and messaging to talk about this issue and dispel myths about why the wage gap exists. And as Tracy Sturdivant reminded us, we also need to talk about equal pay in tandem with other issues that will elevate women and families, like paid family leave and affordable childcare. Finally, we need to continue to reframe equal pay not as an issue that only affects women, but one that affects families and therefore our country.
Panelist Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, director of Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, left the audience with a piece of advice that really resonated with me. She said that we cannot wait for legislative changes to happen, and that we need to work within our own companies and organizations to ensure we have policies and procedures that are fair and equal for all employees. Women in senior leadership positions need to mentor younger women and advocate for their advancement in companies. For those of us involved in performance reviews, we need to take a good look within and ask ourselves how we are evaluating employees and be honest about any implicit biases or assumptions we might be inserting into our reviews. We need to challenge our colleagues to do the same. The discussion was an important reminder to me and to others who are in positions of power in their own organizations that we have the responsibility to tear down the patriarchy from the inside as well.