Throughout the 2018 campaign season, we heard candidates from both parties declare their commitment to American women. A few months into the new Congress, it’s time for lawmakers to demonstrate that commitment by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill which would help to narrow the stubborn gender wage gap.
It isn’t only women who would be well-served: Closing the pay gap should be a top priority of any policy agenda that aims to bolster the economy to the benefit of America’s working families—and our society as a whole. (This bill is expected to be considered by the House of Representatives this week.)
Various iterations of this bill have been considered for more than two decades, but this year the moment seems particularly right. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, public focus has shifted to the struggles of women in the workplace, including the pernicious problem of pay inequity—and most Americans agree something needs to be done. In a recent poll by HuffingtonPost/Yahoo!/CARE, 76 percent of people said they consider the difference in pay between men and women a problem, with more than half describing it as a “serious problem.” And a Gartner survey of businesses found that practically all companies know they need to take action: 71 percent of them have already done so, and an additional 25 percent say they’re planning to.
On a policy level, momentum is building around the country to ensure that women’s 80-cents-on-a-dollar pay ratio closes once and for all. In 2018 alone, 40 states and Washington, D.C. considered legislation to narrow the pay gap, with six states successfully enacting new laws. Already in 2019, more than 30 states have introduced similar bills, sponsored by a diverse set of members on both sides of the aisle. State and municipal laws are needed and welcome, but a strong federal law is the only way to ensure that that all Americans benefit from the same good policies and protections.
The need to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act should be clear. The proposed law would require employers to prove that any pay disparities between men and women are a business necessity and job-related, not sex based. It would ban the use of salary history in setting compensation, which ensures that salaries are not based on prior pay discrimination that can follow workers from job to job.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would also protect workers from being penalized for discussing their salaries with colleagues, allowing for greater transparency about pay which is critical to identifying inequities. And it would help both employers and employees implement fair pay practices by providing technical assistance to employers, requiring wage data collection, and supporting salary negotiation training programs to give workers tools to advocate for higher wages.
This is hardly a radical agenda —it is simply closing the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which has weakened over the past 56 years. That’s why the bill has the enthusiastic support of politicians across the political spectrum, as well as from business groups like the Main Street Alliance and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. Increasingly, employers are realizing that promoting gender equity in the workplace is necessary to attract top talent and to enhance their bottom line. And lawmakers understand that this is a priority for their constituents, as well.
The battle for pay equity has been going on for far too long. Today, women make up almost half the workforce, and a majority of them are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners in their families. Discriminatory pay practices not only hamper their economic prospects—they also endanger their long-term economic security. When we finally see equal pay for equal work, it’s not just women who will be better off – men, families, communities and the economy will thrive, too.
The best way to address the pay gap is to make sure that all in the workforce have the tools necessary to challenge discrimination and to provide employers with effective incentives and assistance to comply with the law. The Paycheck Fairness Act is an important and reasonable approach to making that happen. It’s time for lawmakers who say they champion the interests of women and families to put those words into true action and vote to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Kim Churches is the CEO of the American Association of University Women, a national, non-partisan nonprofit that works to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education, and advocacy.