Guest Commentary

We can bridge the pay gap by working together

Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation.
Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation.

It is a shocking reality that in 2018, more than a half century after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women are still not paid equally for equal work.

This year, in the wake of the #MeToo movement that exposed pervasive sexual harassment in nearly every industry, the pay gap is another reminder that more work must be done to combat discrimination and ensure equity and opportunity for all women.

The pay disparity starts almost as soon as women enter the workforce and widens over time. It robs women of hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings, undermining their financial independence and weakening our economy. Women in Missouri who work full time year-round earn just 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. In Kansas, the number drops to 77 cents on the dollar.

Equally troubling is the fact that last year, while the overall pay gap decreased nationwide, women of color continued to face wide disparities — and black women even saw their wages decline. Black women still make just 63 cents compared to men, and Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

For women, their families and our economy, we need to pick up the pace and get serious about closing the pay gap once and for all.

In 2016, the Women’s Foundation developed a set of guidelines for pay equity best practices, with simple steps employers can take to identify and combat pay disparities. We did this because we know that the pay gap persists not only because of outright wage discrimination, but also because of more systemic — and less overt — disparities.

In addition to a self-audit to determine how much women are paid compared to men overall, employers should also examine specific job categories. For example, are human resource managers, who tend to be women, being paid less than information technology managers, who are predominantly men? If so, change is needed to ensure people who bring similar value and have similar levels of expertise are being paid fairly for the work they do.

A growing body of research also indicates that victims of sexual harassment take a hit to their careers and their earnings. Countless women have come forward with stories of how sexual harassment forced them to change jobs or even got them blacklisted in their fields. This must change.

Employers have a responsibility to create diverse, inclusive and professional workplaces where sexual harassment and discrimination are clearly defined and never tolerated. This starts by having the right policies and procedures in place and cultivating leaders who reflect the rich diversity of our community.

The reasons for the pay gap are complex, but these nuances cannot be an excuse for inaction.

Women make up 47 percent of the workforce. We outnumber men on college campuses, and recent estimates indicate that 42 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. Equal pay for equal work shouldn’t be a lot to ask.

As an organization that uses research to understand this challenge, we believe everyone has a role to play in being part of the solution: employers following best practices, policymakers prioritizing equity and opportunity, and individual women negotiating for higher pay.

Forward-looking companies like Starbucks are taking bold action to narrow and even eliminate the gender pay gap among their employees. The American Association of University Women is doing pioneering work giving women the tools they need to negotiate higher salaries with hands-on trainings and resources. And states and cities across the country are starting to prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history in an effort to prevent low wages from following women throughout their careers.

These combined efforts have a real chance to move the needle and close the pay gap once and for all. Women and their families simply cannot afford wait decades. And with a sustained effort by all of us, they won’t have to.

Wendy Doyle is president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation.