Despite legislation, from the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, it’s still a fact that on average, women earn less money than men. Nationally, a woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
That wage gap was the focus of a pay equity event hosted Thursday by the Oakland, Wayne and Macomb county chapters of the National Organization for Women, along with Michigan NOW, at .
“Pay inequity is a serious problem,” said Kimberly Beebe, president of the Oakland County Chapter of NOW.
“In Michigan, it is even worse, we are 47th out of 50 for pay equity," Beebe said. "As if the issue isn't serious enough at face value, contemplate the lifetime loss and retirement status of this situation.”
Beebe said the wage gap widens with age. While women 15-19 years old earn 91 cents for every dollar a man earns, as women age and approach retirement, earnings drop to 75 cents per dollar.
Beebe said many people are not aware that pay inequity exists and have no idea what it is. She believes the key to closing the wage gap is making the issue known by speaking out and making the issue part of the education program.
Mary Pollock, the legislative vice president for Michigan NOW, spoke to the group and presented a history of pay equity in Michigan and discussed the importance of current laws, proposed legislation and potential long-term solutions to closing the wage gap.
Pollock is a retired state employee from the Civil Service Commission. During her time with the state, Pollock was instrumental in a pay equity study that resulted in millions of dollars in pay adjustments for state workers.
She defines pay equity as simply “elimination of gender-based compensation discrimination.”
Pollock says the 2009 Ledbetter law “woke up” the pay equity issue for mainstream women’s organizations, resulting in events such as a national Equal Pay Day.
Legislation has played a big role in advancing pay equity, but there is still more to be done. Loopholes that weaken the laws need to be closed, while penalties under the laws need to be increased, Pollock said.
Two key pieces of proposed legislation are the Wage Transparency Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, she said.
The Wage Transparency Act would expand the Michigan open wage and nonretaliatory laws passed in the 1980s. It would “permit employees to ask their employer for the compensation rates of those in similar jobs,” she said.
Pollock believes this bill would help employees in the private sector. However, it will require a hearing and passage in the Michigan House and Senate before it becomes law.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would close many of the current legal loopholes by, among other things, strengthening incentives to prevent wage discrimination, said Pollock.
Although the act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, it was defeated in the U.S. Senate in December 2010.
Pollock also advocates a system of comparable worth based on points allotted for skill, effort, responsibility and training required for a job.
Such a factor analysis would allow comparison between dissimilar jobs, resulting in fairer compensation.
“You can compare apples and oranges,” said Pollock.
Although pay equity is a complex issue, Pollock said women’s career choices factor into the equation but that the reasons behind those choices uncover the deeper social issue of gender conditioning.
She said women are still steered toward traditional, lower-paying fields by educators and parents.
The remedy, she said, is to encourage girls and women to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based (STEM) occupations, along with skilled trades, and to make all jobs more flexible and family compatible.
Pollock also said workers need tools that enable them to find out vital information, such as salary figures for jobs with the same skills, responsibilities and required training. She suggests obtaining information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Beebe agrees. She presented a skit stressing the importance of research prior to salary negotiation.
“You need to go in with your guns loaded with extra ammunition … you need to do your research. Come prepared to talk about salary," Beebe said.