In Wednesday night’s Republican debate, the only question the candidates were asked about women and pay was which woman would they put on the $10 bill. A sampling of their answers: “My mom,” “my daughter,” “my wife,” “Margaret Thatcher.”
There’s a lot to be said about the inappropriateness of some of these answers, but even worse was the deafening silence on the real issues that impact working women and families. One key issue that didn’t even get a mention: equal pay for equal work.
Almost every presidential candidate has come out in support of equal pay for equal work. Of course they have. It’s not only the right thing to do; it also helps women and families make ends meet and get ahead. And, perhaps more compelling for some candidates—it polls well across party lines.
But 52 years after equal pay legislation (the Equal Pay Act) was signed into law, the reality is that on average women are still paid 79 cents for every dollar earned by men in the United States. It’s even worse for women of color. Black women earn 60 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women earn 55 cents on the dollar.
One major problem is that too many people don’t know that they are not being paid equally. Compensation data is often hidden. Sixty percent of private sector employees work in an environment that formally prohibits or discourages discussing salary information, according to a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. With so much secrecy around pay data, it’s impossible to know that you are being paid less than your colleague and impossible to enforce the law. That’s why supporting equal pay for equal work means supporting pay transparency.
Here’s a prime example of why we need pay transparency. Last year, the Sony hack revealed just how unequal pay is between male and female actors. With this information public, Charlize Theron was able to negotiate a raise (more than $10 million dollars) to get paid the same as her male co-star, Chris Hemsworth, in The Huntsman.
However, we can’t all rely on hackers to reveal discrepancies in our pay.
What we need is a public database showing how much employers pay for different jobs broken down by sex, race and ethnicity. With this sort of data available, everyone can see whether they’re making a fair wage, and do it without revealing individual pay data. Candidates who truly support equal pay will endorse pay transparency, as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which protects employees from retaliation when they discuss their pay.
Some employers argue that a higher previous salary or men’s negotiation skills are the reasons women are paid less. This actually perpetuates the gender discrepancy in pay, and under current law, allows some employers to get away with wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close this loophole in the Equal Pay Act, which is just another reason that candidates who actually support equal pay will support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
America is founded on the ideal that all of us are created equal. That should hold true at home and at work. Paying people fairly for the work they do shouldn’t depend on gender.
It’s not enough to say you support equal pay for equal work. Candidates need to show voters what they’re going to do to make good on that statement. True support for equal pay looks like this: support publicly available pay data, end retaliation for discussing pay, close Equal Pay Act loopholes, increase the cost of discrimination for employers, and support family friendly workplace policies. So when you hear a candidate say, “I support equal pay for equal work,” ask them what they will do to change the status quo. And beware of politicians who talk a good game about equality, but have no intention on delivering on those promises.
Julie Kashen is Senior Policy Advisor to the Make it Work campaign and an expert on policy issues related to working families, economic mobility, labor, and poverty.