Pay Equity in the U.S.

Yes, I admit it, I’m an absolute “Mad Men” fanatic. I love the clothes, I love the hair, I love the fact that fuller figured women are considered sexy. Most of all, I love how it so very accurately portrays women in the workplace circa 1964. Women were not taken seriously nor were they paid fairly. Jump back to 2009 – we’ve come a long way baby – right?

Wrong. BLR reported on the AAUW State by State Gender Pay Gap which noted the best and the worst equity pay in the US. The results really surprised me. The survey compares college educated men and women over the age of 25 years old, working full-time.

Which states fared the best in terms of the earnings gap? Here are the top 10 states, followed by their earnings gap percentage (figures rounded off):

1) Vermont 87%
2) Hawaii 83%
3) Delaware 80%
4) New York 78%
5) Montana 77%
6) Wyoming 77%
7) New Mexico 77%
8) Wisconsin 76%
9) Oregon 76%
10) Nevada 75%

Which states fared the worst? Here are the bottom 10 states in terms of the earnings gap:

42) Utah 69%
43) Michigan 68%
44) Arkansas 68%
45) Iowa 68%
46) New Hampshire 68%
47) Oklahoma 67%
48) Virginia 67%
49) Mississippi 67%
50) West Virginia 67%
51) Louisiana 65%

It’s unbelievable to me that in this day and age, women are still, at best, making 87 cents to a man’s dollar and the fact that the national average shows that women make 71% of what men make really leaves me both angered and puzzled. How could this be? Women are running companies, managing large groups, breaking the glass ceilings and de-gluing sticky floors.

Yet (and believe me I am no fan of this woman) when Sarah Palin made a bid for Vice President, much of the criticism was based on the fact that she was not staying home taking care of her infant who had special needs. Oh, and Hilary evidently rode on Bill’s coattails to get to where she is. Why should we expect equal pay when the same stereotypes keep getting thrown at us?

April 28, 2009 was National Pay Equity Day. I wish I was paying more attention and wrote about this subject on that day. Oh well, better late than never.

And then there’s the Paycheck Fairness Act, which, according to the Women’s National Law Center is defined as:

The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced in both the House (H.R. 12) and the Senate (S. 182) and passed by the House on Jan. 9, 2009, would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963. The Act would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the EPA and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages. The bill also allows women to receive the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subject to discrimination based on race and national origin.

Not surprisingly, the Heritage Foundation has a very pragmatic description of the PFA:

What Is the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA)?

  • Under the current Equal Pay Act, once employees have provided prima facie evidence of sex discrimination, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to show that the difference in wages results from “any factor other than sex.”
  • The PFA eliminates the “any factor other than sex” defense and replaces it with a “bona fide factor other than sex” defense. Employers can only use this “bona fide factor” defense if they demonstrate that business necessity demands it.
  • Such defense shall not apply where the employee demonstrates that an alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing such differential and that the employer has refused to adopt such alternative practice.
  • The PFA makes employers liable for unlimited punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages in cases of sex discrimination.
  • The PFA makes it easier to bring class action lawsuits in such cases.

All of the HR organizations decry the passage of the PFA and as an HR professional, I certainly can see why. Yet I also find it very difficult as a woman to oppose it, particularly in light of very disappointing data above. Therein, I guess, lies the rub.

Oh, in case you were curious – California came in just after Nevada at 75%.