Few Americans debate anymore whether women deserve the same pay as men for doing the same job. Instead, those who don’t mind discrimination against women frame the issue around whether a pay gap even exists and whether lifestyle choices made by women cause it.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that tries to eliminate some of the factors keeping women’s pay down compared to men’s. Washington Sen. Patty Murray on Tuesday called upon her Senate colleagues to pass it, too.
“Our economy can only succeed if women can succeed,” she said on the Senate floor, asking for unanimous consent to the bill.
On average, women earn about 82 cents for every dollar a man in an equivalent position makes. The gap is worse for black women and even worse for Hispanic women. Some of the gap can be attributed to so-called lifestyle choices made by women — taking time off to care for children, having more household responsibilities, etc. But those decisions are small compared to systemic challenges that the bill would address.
As the bill notes, pay disparities depress the wages of working families who rely on the pay of all members to make ends meet. It also undermines women’s retirement security, which is typically based on workforce earnings.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit employers from asking job candidates how much they earned in past jobs, making it less likely that past discrimination would compound and be reflected in paychecks for new positions.
The bill also would end a common practice of employers’ keeping salary information secret. That way women could ask if male colleagues are earning more, and do so without facing retaliation. This isn’t just a benefit for women, though. Transparency would benefit all employees. Only employers are served when employees can’t discuss their salaries.
The sharing of salary data would extend to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, too, enabling the agency to keep an eye out for discriminatory patterns.
Finally, the legislation calls for training women on salary negotiations. Studies have shown that women are less likely to negotiate pay when they are hired, lowering their starting salaries and making it harder for them to ever catch up.
Even if the Senate can pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — which seems unlikely with hesitant Republicans in control — it won’t solve the issue of pay inequity by itself. The problem is rooted in deeply systemic societal issues and gender-role expectations.
But overcoming inequity of all kinds takes time, persistence and leadership. Even incremental change can be a welcome step along the journey. The Senate should bring this bill up for a vote and pass it.