Patricia Yosha: Unequal pay is workplace misconduct

  • President Barack Obama signs executive actions aimed at closing a compensation gender gap that favors men on April 8, 2014, during an event marking Equal Pay Day. AP

For the Monitor
Sunday, April 08, 2018

April 10 has been designated as the 2018 Equal Pay Day. In case you have forgotten, that is a symbolic day dedicated to raising awareness of the gender pay gap. The formula: Women have to work until April 10 to earn what men had earned by last Dec. 31. In New Hampshire, women earn 83 cents for every dollar men earn. (Things have improved a bit; in 2016 Equal Pay Day was on April 12!)

This year, the public is waking up to a major factor in the pay gap between women and men: workplace power and widespread sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on workplace sexual harassment. But sexual harassment does not occur in a vacuum.

Studies for years have revealed general undervaluation of women’s competence, commitment and compensation. The power dynamics result not only in mistreatment of women emotionally and physically, but also in pay scales.

So, in New Hampshire, for example, we see annual average men’s earnings at $53,581, and women’s earnings annually $44,550 (2016 figures: AAUW) for work requiring comparable skills and background. When you look at power positions, 71 percent of those in New Hampshire earning more than $100,00 in public sector jobs are men. Broaden the view, and you learn that major American corporations with international connections illustrate noticeable gender pay gaps: at Google, men earn 16 percent more than women; at Facebook, the gap is 9.9 percent; at Microsoft, 8.4 percent.

One of the factors in explaining the persistence of the gender pay gap is lack of information of how extensive it is, just as the information about workplace sexual harassment was lacking until recently.

Under the Obama administration, companies were required to report wage gaps by race and gender. Under President Trump, that rule of transparency has been withdrawn.

In the U.K., by contrast, private companies with more than 250 employees must by law reveal gender differences in hourly pay rates.

For a long time, research showed that women lacked negotiation skills when talking with potential employers. In part, hesitation to be bold in discussing compensation was the result of familiarity with frequent employer bias about assertive negotiators. An important remedy has been training for women in negotiating skills, which has been offered in this state by the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation. And dispelling the myth that motherhood is a reason for paying women less is also on the agenda of many female and women business leaders, who finally see the link between family medical leave, reasonably priced child care and businesses economic success.

The clamor for attention to the persistent gender pay is not new. The Equal Pay Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1963. But it did not receive the attention of enough people in positions of power to speed the path to pay equity. Only when the sexually predatory behavior of men in power in nearly every arena of American life hit the headlines – and lawsuits – was notice given to decision-makers and the American public that women can no longer be victims of misconduct in the workplace.

Unequal pay is misconduct. And just as sexual harassment must end, so must pay disparity.

Women: Wear red on April 10 to show you support Equal Pay Day 2018.

(Patricia Yosha lives in Exeter.)