We Need Laws And Companies to Work Together For Pay Equality

The concept of compensating people equally for doing equal work, regardless of gender.

One of the most-talked-about ads from this year’s super bowl was the Audi commercial affirming the company’s commitment to gender equality in the workplace, in particular pay equality.

Should be anything but controversial in the year 2017, but there are still people who have problems with the ad. Some objections centered on the fact that Audi is not exactly a model of corporate gender equality. Others disliked the ad because, rather than showcasing the company’s product, this and a number of other super bowl ads featured a political message. This political fatigue is understandable. It seems like it shouldn’t be too much to ask that things like cars and football not be politicized. But when it comes to the gender wage gap, companies and businesses and lawmakers all need to make some changes if real progress is going to be made.

Gender-based pay discrimination specifically became illegal in 1963, with the passage of the Equal Pay Act and the wage gap has been steadily decreasing since then. But more than half a century later, the gap still persists. There is some disagreement as to exactly how wide it is today. Some analyses put the gap at about 8%, meaning, on average, women earn 92 cents for every dollar men earn doing the same work. Others claim the gender pay discrepancy is actually 20% or more for certain age groups. There is also some disagreement about exactly why the wage gap exists. The truth is the gap is probably somewhere in between those numbers and that it’s caused by a complicated set of factors. Simple discrimination, historical gender roles and family obligation, and even communication styles all probably contribute to the gap. The multifaceted nature of the problem is part of the reason why the Equal Pay Act failed to fully solve it and why it’s going to take something other than more of the same type legislation to actually close it.

When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, and the wage gap specifically, there are changes that need to happen, which can’t and shouldn’t be made through legislation. Individual companies like Audi and others that have committed to equal pay have the unique ability to tackle this problem from the inside. They can analyze how different factors from pay scale to hiring and promotion practices to corporate culture may contribute to the gap. And companies can address any issues they identify in a much more targeted and effective way than new laws could. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing more that our lawmakers need to do.

The U.S. is one of the only counties that doesn’t have legally-mandated paid maternity leave and this should be fixed. Requiring paid parental leave for women will go a long way towards not allowing women who choose to be parents to be penalized professionally, but there is another step that’s necessary, too. If maternity leave is legally required, but paternity leave isn’t, then women have essentially been legislated into the role of primary care giver for children. The de facto gender roles of women as homemakers and men as breadwinners is one of the big underlying influences on the pay gap and if this is perpetuated with unequally mandated parental leave, then the wage gap will probably never close. In order to achieve truly equal pay, there will need to be laws requiring equal parental leave for both genders. There will also need to be companies that are committed to creating an environment of professional equality, where people of both genders can exercise that leave and be compensated the same. The wage gap is a legal problem, a business problem, and a culture problem, so it needs to be addressed in all those areas in order to truly be solved.

Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.

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