Guest Commentary

It’s much more than women’s soccer. We all need to stay in the game for equal pay

World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe calls for unity in motivational speech after NYC victory parade

World Cup champion and USWNT star Megan Rapinoe called for everyone to be better, and to be more united, during a speech at the New York City parade.
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World Cup champion and USWNT star Megan Rapinoe called for everyone to be better, and to be more united, during a speech at the New York City parade.

When the U.S. Women’s National Team clinched their fourth World Cup title with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands, the crowd in the stadium began chanting “equal pay.” The moment encapsulated how the team’s galvanizing fight for pay equity has brought long-overdue attention to the pay gap facing all women in the workplace — and the urgent need to close it.

In March, 28 members of the team sued the United States Soccer Federation asserting gender discrimination. They made a strong case. The women’s team has now won four World Cup titles, while the men’s team has won none. The women also played more games and garnered higher TV ratings, yet they still earn substantially less than the male players.

The U.S. Soccer Federation should stop dragging its feet and take action now to equalize compensation between the men’s and women’s teams.

But the pay gap facing Megan Rapinoe and her teammates is just one example of the injustice facing millions of women each and every day.

Women in the U.S. are paid on average just 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. This pay gap impacts women as soon as they enter the workforce and worsens over time. Working mothers are hit especially hard, earning just 69 cents for every dollar a man makes. Women of color fare even worse. For every dollar earned by a man, black women make 61 cents and Latinas make 53 cents.

Those pennies add up, robbing women of a small fortune over their lifetimes and putting a drag on our economy. One study found that providing equal pay to women would increase the wages paid into the economy by $513 billion. That’s half a trillion dollars our economy is missing out on by not paying women what they deserve.

The pay gap is a relic of an economy that no longer exists. Women are increasingly the primary breadwinners of their families. And every dollar they lose to the pay gap is a dollar that isn’t going to feed their families, start a small business or grow our economy.

While the pay gap has been well documented and solutions have been identified, at its current rate, the gap won’t close until 2059. That is far too long for anyone to wait to pay their mortgage or health care costs.

As an organization dedicated to economic opportunity for women, the Women’s Foundation believes closing the pay gap will require a sustained and comprehensive approach.

For employers, our Pay Equity Best Practices encourage businesses to identify compensation systems that perpetuate the pay gap. For example, are IT managers — who are more likely to be men — paid more than HR managers, who are more likely to be women?

We also need elected officials who are committed to combating wage discrimination with policies like paid family leave and salary history bans — two solutions that have been embraced by elected leaders in Kansas City and St. Louis County.

But government does not have all the answers. For instance, we recently teamed up with the American Association of University Women to bring Work Smart pay negotiation training to the heartland for the very first time. Participants in these workshops learn to research fair and equitable salaries in their fields and to clearly articulate their skills and experience with confidence. The free instructional seminars are available online at salary.aauw.org.

Finally, workplace cultures are not as healthy and effective as they could be in many sectors of our economy. And it’s going to take all of us — including men — to change outdated workplace cultures and build a more effective and equitable future. That means continuing to combat sexual harassment, encouraging more flexible and inclusive policies, and diversifying the perspectives on boards and leadership teams, as our Appointments Project strives to do at the state and local level.

Our national women’s soccer team has shined an international spotlight on the fact that women often have to work twice as hard and achieve twice as much just for the chance to be paid equally.

For our families, for our economy and for our communities — 40 years is too long to wait for the pay women deserve. The time for equal pay is now.

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

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