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Today is Equal Pay Day — the date into the new year that women have to work in order to earn the same amount as men did the previous year. Even as awareness of this problem has grown in recent years, progress remains frustratingly slow.
For one thing, there’s the still-high number of men who simply don’t believe that a wage gap exists. In one recent poll, nearly half of male respondents said that the wage gap is “made up to serve a political purpose” rather than a “legitimate issue.” That’s in spite of research by the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research that showed that if current trends continue, women won’t achieve pay equity until 2059 — and pay disparities are even greater when race is taken into account.
So, what can be done? Congress could pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for women to fight gender-based pay discrimination, close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, strengthen the remedies available to workers who face discrimination, bar employers from retaliating against workers who raise concerns about gender-based pay discrimination and make wages more transparent.
Though a few states outlaw the practice, under current laws in most places employers can punish or even fire employees who share their salary information with their co-workers, making it hard for women to even learn that they are being underpaid. It’s time to end these restrictions. And for men, whatever industry you work in, consider sharing your salary numbers with the women who work with you so they can judge whether they are being underpaid.
Even if Congress does not act, individual states should do more to strengthen their own laws requiring equal pay for equal work, and businesses should choose on their own to investigate and remedy pay disparities in their own workforces. If they don’t, they may find themselves doing it anyway after a successful lawsuit.
Finally, everyone should remember that equal pay isn’t just the law, it’s the right thing to do, ethically and professionally. Paying employees equally regardless of their gender helps recruit and retain top talent, reduces workplace frustration and improves your company’s image.