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Shining a Light on the Wage Gap

HHFifty years after the Equal Pay Act, employment discrimination persists but is harder to see.

By Dr. Heidi Hartmann

When the Equal Pay Act (EPA) was passed 50 years ago, discrimination was, in many ways, openly accepted in the workplace and women were expected to earn less than men in the same jobs. The EPA signed by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963, helped to reduce this type of blatant employment discrimination, but it is still present and the wage gap persists.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) was founded 25 years ago, at the end of the 1980s, the decade which saw the most sustained narrowing of the gender wage gap since passage of the EPA. Between 1981 and 1990, the gender wage gap closed by more than ten percentage points. In the most recent decade, progress has stalled and the gap narrowed by no more than one percentage point.

There is no single cause for the pay gap. Jobs dominated by women pay less than jobs dominated by men. Over their lifetimes, women still take off more time from paid work for family care than men. Women also still face subtle—and not so subtle—discrimination when they do the similar work to men. Direct discrimination is still estimated to account for between one quarter and 40 percent of the wage gap, according to several reviews of social science research.

Employers can no longer advertise jobs at different rates for men and women. But paying women less for similar performance, giving women less access to career-enhancing opportunities, and making it harder for women to get promoted are practices that continue to hinder progress towards equal pay.

Tackling those types of employment discrimination is surprisingly difficult because employees may still be fired simply for discussing their earnings with a colleague or coworker. In an age when information sharing has become widespread and hearing about a major life event over social networking is not uncommon, exchanging pay information remains frowned upon by many employers. Pay secrecy allows disparities, discrimination, and unequal pay to hide under the rug.

President Kennedy hands out pens at the White House signing of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963.  Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

President John F. Kennedy hands out pens at the White House signing of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

According to an IWPR/Rockefeller survey, half of all workers (51 percent of women and 47 percent of men) report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment. The Equal Pay Act does not protect workers against retaliation for sharing salary information with their co-workers. In the public sector, where pay information is publicly available, a smaller pay gap exists compared to the private sector.

The 2009 Lily Ledbetter Act provides that every paycheck that pays a woman less than a male colleague for equal or similar work can be challenged in court, but the act did not address pay secrecy. Ledbetter worked for a company that prohibited the discussion of one’s salary. After 18 years on the job, Ledbetter sued when, in an anonymous note from a coworker, she received evidence that she was being paid unfairly. The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in the last Congress, but failed to pass to a vote in the Senate. This bill would have protected workers against retaliation for sharing pay information.

Women don’t have the time to wait to earn the same as men because their families need the money now. According to the most recent estimate from IWPR, however, the wage gap is not expected to close until 2057. Many women working today will never see equal pay, harming their long-term earnings and leaving them with lower retirement income.

In an age where women in the United States are almost half the workforce, are more likely to gain higher levels of education than men, and increasingly are the main or co-breadwinner in families, we cannot wait for another 44 years for the gender wage gap to be finally relegated to the history books.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann is President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

One on One with Rosa DeLauro, Congresswoman and Champion for Women and Families

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR's 25th anniversary event.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is known in Washington, D.C., is a champion for women. Her dedication and continued work to improve policies for women and their families demonstrate why more women should run for office.

Rep. DeLauro represents Connecticut’s Third District, which stretches from the Long Island Sound and New Haven to the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury. She serves in the Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, and she is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. From that position, Rep. DeLauro works to increase support for education and innovation, to fully implement the Affordable Care Act, to protect the rights of employees and unions, and to raise living standards.

Rep. DeLauro has led efforts in Congress to achieve full pay equity for women and to ensure that all employees have access to paid sick days. Soon after earning degrees from Marymount College and Columbia University, she followed her parents’ footsteps into public service, serving as the first Executive Director of EMILY’S List, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office, Executive Director of Countdown ’87, the national campaign that successfully stopped U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, and as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd.

In 1990, Rep. DeLauro was elected to the House of Representatives, and she has served as the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s 3rd District since. She is married to Stanley Greenberg, President of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a public issues research firm. Their children—Anna, Kathryn and Jonathan Greenberg—all are grown and pursuing careers. They have four grandchildren, Rigby, Teo, Sadie, and Jasper.

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

My family always stressed the value of public service. Both of my parents served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen and my mother is the longest serving Alderman—or Alderwoman!—in New Haven’s history. They really imparted to me the importance of giving back to your community and trying to better the world around you.

I have attempted to live up to the example they set throughout my life. For a long time I worked in more of a behind-the-scenes role… Eventually, I decided that I wanted to hold elected office myself and have been privileged to serve in Congress ever since.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

A few things stick out. One is doubling the funding for the National Institutes of Health between 1998 and 2003. As an ovarian cancer survivor, one of my explicit goals when I came to Congress was supporting medical research and the fight against cancer. That doubling has reaped real dividends and we have made amazing progress, but we really need to do it again!

Another was passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Because of that law women’s health care is finally on the same footing as men’s and millions of women will no longer have to pay more for their insurance just because they are a woman. It is truly transformative and people across the country will continue to see more of its benefits in the coming years.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

While serving as Senator Dodd’s Chief of Staff I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was supposed to be running his reelection campaign and worried about what would happen. When I told Senator Dodd, he was so supportive and told me to take all the time I needed to get better. I will never forget that and it has been a huge part of why I am so driven to ensure all Americans can take time off, without having to fear for their paycheck, when they or a loved one are sick.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Clearly we have made great strides. Women make up about half of the workforce and we see more women in leadership roles in both the public and private sector—though still far too few!

But women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man does and make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. This mirrors the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. Electing more people to public office who will fight for equal pay, family-friendly workplace policies and better educational opportunities is crucial to righting this.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

I have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in each of the past eight congresses and I will continue fighting for it until we truly have equal pay for equal work. The bill is very simple—it says same job, same pay, regardless of gender. Nearly 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law we should not still be having these same battles.

And as I mentioned earlier, we need policies that will make our workplaces more family-friendly and reflect a society where both men and women work outside the home. I have repeatedly introduced legislation to ensure workers can take paid leave when they or a loved one are sick. We have seen similar policies passed in cities across the country and I am hopeful it is only a matter of time before people nationwide have that right.

What are your goals for women in the United States and across the globe?

Women should be recognized for their skills, talents, and intelligence on an equal playing field as men. Girls should have access to education and be encouraged to thrive in those environments. Young women should be paid the same as their male colleagues and have the same opportunities to blaze whatever career path they choose. And older women should have a dignified retirement and not have to make the terrible choice between food, housing, medicine, or other necessities. At times it may seem like a struggle, but I know that one day all of these goals will be reality.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke about “An Economic Agenda for Women’s Equality” at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event on May 22, 2013, at the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. Watch the full video of the event.

One on One with Cindy Estrada, Union Leader

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Cindy Estrada is Vice President of the International Union, United Auto Workers.

Cindy Estrada is Vice President of the International Union, United Auto Workers.

Throughout this month, IWPR will be interviewing speakers appearing at our 25th anniversary celebration on May 22. Our esteemed speakers will share with us their own stories of accomplishment and perseverance, their perspectives on women’s advances, and their hopes for future progress.

Cindy Estrada has an impressive record of accomplishments. She is the first Latina elected as Vice President of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 2010, a mother of twin boys, and a lifelong activist for workers’ rights. When Estrada speaks, her compassion and toughness are as notable as her accomplishments.

Estrada was inspired to join the labor movement from a young age. Growing up in Detroit, she was familiar with the auto workers in the city as they would come by her father’s bar. She also worked under iconic labor activist, César Chavez, during her early years as an activist organizing for farm workers in California. Following those experiences, she climbed the ladder at the UAW, working to create and implement a number of organizing strategies and becoming a resonating voice for women’s and workers’ rights.

It was in Detroit that Estrada ran her first campaign for auto workers. An auto factory that had been passed down to daughters of the original owner was being poorly managed and workers were facing low wages and unsafe conditions. Estrada acted as their voice and advocate because, as she said, the women already know how the auto plant could be run better. “Somebody told me a long time ago, my job is not to coddle the worker, but to show them how to fight back,” Estrada told me in an interview over the phone.

Maintaining a balance between work and family is very important to Estrada. “One of my [greatest accomplishments] is my kids,” she said. “And to still be able to do the work that I do and […] balance it with family. Every day, to figure out how to balance it.”

When I asked Estrada about obstacles along her career paths, she was quick to clarify that she had encountered “choices, not obstacles” on the way to her leadership role. At the same time, she understands the pressures that women can face when they choose. “Progress, not perfection,” said Estrada. “Really focusing on the things I should say no to because I want to be there for my kids.”

There were instances when Estrada chose time with family over work, including stepping down from a position at the UAW after having twins to spend more time at home. Estrada says there needs to be more acceptance and recognition for women who sometimes choose family over work.

As a union leader and a woman, Estrada is blazing trails. According to a 2007 IWPR report, while women’s membership in unions is increasing, men are much more likely to serve in leadership roles. As a woman advocating for a male-dominated industry, Estrada has at times encountered presumptions that she does not have the expertise, or met with men who only wanted to address the other men in the room. “Fortunately, in our union I work with men that are very progressive,” said Estrada. “And when I feel like something is not right, I can talk to them.”

When it comes to the future of women, Estrada strongly believes that women need to take a seat at the table in order to be heard, echoing similar messages from women leaders like Sheryl Sandberg.  “I think women are taught that we need to do more [in order to] to take that seat at the table. But it is better for our community [for women] to be there. Our communities need the soulfulness, the intelligence, the wisdom of the women at the table.”

The actions of women alone are not all that are required for equality, and Estrada recognizes that movements and policies supporting women are essential to their empowerment. “We need paid family and medical leave,” said Estrada. “That’s why unions are so important. Women belong in the labor movement because it will be critical to their advancement.”

Estrada says mentoring is also one of the keys to opening doors for women, giving them the opportunity to contribute to the conversation and to lead—which is why mentoring is also one of the UAW’s main goals. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the men and women who mentored me.”

You can hear Cindy Estrada speak at IWPR’s May 22 anniversary celebration, “Making Research Count for Women: Launching the Next 25 Years.”

Perspectives on Women’s Progress in the Workforce—Voices of Women Leaders

by Caroline Hopper

As I near my college graduation, the prospect of entering the workforce at the tail end of a historic recession is intimidating. While it should no longer be the case, it is even more intimidating to enter the job market as a woman. Despite decades of civil rights laws banning discrimination and countless milestones in the feminist movement, evidence indicates that women like me who are entering the work force, could still face gender discrimination.

Discrimination was the norm for previous generations of working women. I spoke with Susan Scanlan, President of Women’s Research & Education Institute and Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO), about her experience as a young professional. For Scanlan, sexism was obvious from the moment she walked into her first professional interview.

Scanlan was asked in her interview if she was planning to get married soon and, if so, if she was planning on becoming pregnant shortly after. “Among the questions I was asked in my interview: ‘Do you understand that the ladies on our staff must maintain an attractive appearance and may never wear slacks to work?’” said Scanlan. “This was long before sex-segregated Help Wanted ads were outlawed.”

Scanlan accepted the job offer. “I was grateful to earn three-quarters the salary of the entry-level man in the office,” she said. “They had high school degrees; I’d just completed a master’s at Tulane University.”

Scanlan’s first “real” job was on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant to Rep. Charlie Wilson in 1972. But between 1965 and 1971, she worked as a clerk and typist for the U.S. Army during her summers off from college and graduate school (she once typed 100 words a minute with no errors in a competition).

“The professional world for women is infinitely improved from those foolhardy days…they are protected by many laws and civil rights that Second Wave feminists fought and bled to enact,” Scanlan acknowledged.

According to IWPR research, in 1960 the gender wage ratio was 60.7 percent. There were dramatic improvements in the 1980s, but progress in closing the gap has stalled in the last decade. The ratio of female to male annual earnings is now 77 percent—just slightly better than the ratio that Scanlan herself experienced in the 1960s. Going at today’s rate, it will take until 2057  to reach equal pay.

Esmeralda Lyn, Chair of IWPR’s board of directors, recently retired as the C.V. Staff Distinguished Professor of Finance and International Financial Services, and previously served as a finance officer at the United Nations in New York City. Commenting on her decades of professional experience, Lyn said, “There is no exception: finance is still an old boys’ club.”

IWPR research found that the finance industry has one of the largest wage gaps and that women are underrepresented among the highest earners in the banking and finance industry. According to IWPR analysis, in the banking and finance industries only 26 percent of employees with high earnings (at least $100,000 per year) are women.

Despite what Lyn describes as the “egregious gender discrimination [that] happens in the corporate world and in large international organizations,” she believes the situation is slowly improving.

Caroline Hopper is a former intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is a student at The George Washington University. Look for more perspectives on women in the workforce coming this month.


One on One with Professor and Expert on Women in Politics, Dr. Michele L. Swers

Michele Swers

Dr. Michele Swers, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Throughout this month, IWPR will be interviewing speakers appearing at our 25th anniversary celebration on May 22. Our esteemed speakers will share with us their own stories of accomplishment and perseverance, their perspectives on women’s advances, and their hopes for future progress. 

Michele L. Swers is an Associate Professor of American Government in the Department of Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., focusing on how the gender of elected representatives plays a part in congressional policymaking. Dr. Swers has appeared as an expert in a range of media outlets, including PBS’ “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” CQ Weekly, Politico, CNN, as well as in national and state newspapers.

Dr. Swers is the author of two books on women’s representation in Congress, The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress (University of Chicago Press, 2002) and Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

I always loved history. I read books about the presidents and other great historical figures. My grandmother gave me a book about first ladies and she told me stories about Eleanor Roosevelt. This sparked an interest in learning about the role of women in history and politics. I also found that I enjoyed teaching. Before history tests, I would have friends over at my house and run study sessions. I was a high school social studies teacher before I went back to school for my Ph.D. in political science.

I was in college during the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections, and I was struck by the fact that my political science texts clearly stated that all members of Congress respond to re-election incentives and the nature of their districts. Therefore, the identity of the individual member did not matter, as long as they stayed true to the district. At the same time, EMILY’s List was raising vast sums of money, not to elect all Democrats, but specifically to elect pro-choice Democratic women. Why would a savvy political organization do this if any Democrat would pursue their agenda? I went to graduate school to investigate the question of whether electing women has an impact on policy outcomes.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

I am very fortunate to have a fulfilling career and a loving family. As a professor at Georgetown, I work with very smart and energetic students who are interested in politics and want to make a contribution to society. I am able to do research that I love on the policy impact of electing women to Congress. I have written two books on the subject. My most recent book, Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press) was just published this month. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. My job allows me to spend time with them and support their education and growth.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

Academic jobs are difficult to get. To get the best education I could and maximize my marketability, I had to endure several years of a commuter marriage. Once you have a job, the biological clock and the tenure clock are not very compatible so that affected when I decided to have my children. On the whole, I have been very fortunate in my career path. Many women who came before me had to endure significant discrimination and undervaluing of their research and contributions. I benefitted from their sacrifices and have tried to support the women coming up behind me.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Over the past 25 years, opportunities for women in education and the workforce have greatly expanded. The presence of women in the workforce is almost universally accepted and women can compete for top jobs in all fields. However, society has not reconciled the advancement of women into the workforce with the imperative of caring for children.  Fathers are still expected to be breadwinners and the United States does not have a system of paid family leave or universal quality childcare. This lack of attention to issues of work-family balance creates difficulties for single and two parent families at all income levels.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

We need to find ways to support families in their efforts to balance the demands of their jobs and the health and welfare of their families. Creation and expansion of family leave to include paid leave, the development of affordable, quality childcare, and improved regulation of childcare would improve the lives of women and their families. Tax credits and deductions would encourage businesses to offer family-friendly policies such as paid leave, on-site childcare, and telecommuting opportunities.  A workforce that can properly care for their children and be confident about their well-being will be a more productive workforce.

You can hear Dr. Swers speak at IWPR’s May 22 anniversary celebration, “Making Research Count for Women: Launching the Next 25 Years.”

Why Feminism Still Fits With Younger Generations of Women

Lily Horton HeadshotRecently younger female role models have been publicly rejecting feminism, but does that reflect the larger reality?

By Lily Horton, IWPR Communications Intern

Women in the workforce, particularly those with children, have been the subjects of a renewed (and rehashed) debate on the definition of feminism and whether women can have it all. Writers Anne Marie Slaughter and Hanna Rosin have famously weighed in. Alongside, young women have also been rehashing the idea of feminism and its significance to them. This particular discussion, possibly more present in the media than in reality, has prominent young women saying they do not define themselves as feminists. The word itself now sometimes simply referred to as the f-word.

But what does feminism really mean to young people, like myself? Are young women actually retreating from the term, or is that a misrepresentation? Publicly rejecting the term feminist has been a visible trend among young celebrities of the millennial generation and beyond, including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Demi Moore, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The millennial generation may have lost sight of the first and second waves because they have grown up being told and encouraged to claim their space, to be anything they wanted to be. As a student at a liberal arts college in Washington, D.C, I have noticed a surprising number of young people turn their backs on the term feminist. Both men and women alike hesitate to identify as feminists because the term continues to conjure images of radical protests. Thus, there seems to be a lack of understanding of the fluidity, flexibility, and diversity within feminism.

But not all women have disassociated with the continuing movement. In reality, many young women call themselves feminists, according to a November 2012 poll commissioned by Ms. Magazine with the Communications Consortium Media Center and the Feminist Majority Foundation. The poll found 55 percent of women voters and even 30 percent of men voters consider themselves feminists and—among women voters under 30—59 percent consider themselves feminists. But the poll also showed that young women are hesitant to call themselves “strong feminists.” Even after being provided with a dictionary definition of the term, a smaller percentage of 31 percent defined themselves as “strong feminists.”

In my experience, student discussions of gender equality are usually marked by across-the-board consensus that women deserve access to the same opportunities as men. There is not a lack of feminist beliefs or values in the millennial generation, but, as the Ms. Foundation poll showed, young people do not want to be identified as radically “strong feminists.”

Some young women of the millennial generation may think feminism places women against men, instead of working alongside them. In XO Jane, Margaret Cho wrote that characteristics attributed to feminism today are not actually inherent to it; for instance, the idea that women should reject conventional forms of beauty and should embrace ‘puritanical’ attitudes toward sex. Cho, a comedian who is known for blazing trails, emphasized the fact that all feminists differ as women and there is no uniform code that makes a woman a feminist.

In an e-mail interview, author and co-founder of the blog sexyfeminist, Jennifer Armstrong, weighed in, reiterating Cho’s point that feminism takes a variety of forms. The ultimate goal shared by all feminists is “making sure women are treated equally with men,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong thinks women in the millennial generation are skittish of the term because “it is oddly controversial and, alas, is still pilloried as no fun, too demanding, too shrill, and unsexy. This is thanks to impressively relentless negative PR campaigns waged by everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Suzanne Venker.”

In the end, women need feminism. Despite the millennial generation’s distaste for a perceived divisive label that has the potential to alienate their male counterparts, the reality is that the fight for equality is not over. Women continue to suffer political, economic, and social injustices on a basis of gender.

IWPR addresses these injustices by disseminating knowledge and advocating for policy changes. The millennial generation needs to consider policy issues that continue to disproportionately affect women like access to paid sick days and Social Security. Also, young women face a gender wage gap, and a job and training gap when it comes to higher paying jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These issues currently affect their work lives and economic security, and will affect their future. The work that IWPR does proves that feminism is, in fact, necessary in the 21st century.

For young women and girls today to shy away from feminism is a missed opportunity. As Margaret Cho said, “they will desperately need it out in the world, and to fear what will help you, make you stronger, better, happier makes no sense.”

Lily Horton is a Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is presently a senior at The George Washington University majoring in International Affairs and minoring in Women’s Studies

New Speakers Announced for IWPR’s 25th Anniversary Celebration!

PrintOn May 22, IWPR will celebrate 25 years of Making Research Count for Women with a half-day symposium followed by a special keynote address by Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and evening reception. IWPR is thrilled to unveil new speakers on the program. The full list includes:

The speakers and panelists wll address emerging issues affecting women and girls around the world, and how we can continue to advance women’s progress as IWPR launches its next 25 years.

To learn more, visit our anniversary page.

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