What Men Can Do Right Now To Close the Gender Pay Gap: Listen up.
Our mothers are being paid less than our fathers; our daughters less than our sons, our sisters less than our brothers, and men have too often stood by and let equal pay be labeled a “woman’s issue.” That isn’t right.
This isn’t an issue for just women. It’s an issue for the families who depend on them. It’s an issue for everyone who believes in fairness.It’s an issue for me.My wife Linda has many times been the sole or the primary breadwinner for our family and we are not unique; in more than 60% percent of American households, the woman is the sole, primary, or co-breadwinner. And yet, by the time she reaches the age range of 45 to 64, she is paid $15,404 less per year than her male counterparts, even though she works just as hard, or harder. Across America, this pay gap amounts to $447 billion in lost income for working women and their families.
If employers paid women as much as men, America’s poverty rate would be cut in half. Think about that—equal pay is not only about fairness; it’s about the economic well-being of our country.
My two daughters are beginning their careers facing an environment of pay inequity. Should they become parents someday, they will in all likelihood face the “motherhood penalty,” a 4% decrease in earnings for each child they have. Meanwhile, their male counterparts will be rewarded for having children, getting a 6% increase in pay for becoming fathers,which is what studies have shown typically happens when male employees have children. Is it any surprise then that young women are putting off having kids, or deciding not to have kids at all?
My boss, Shonda Rhimes, has made a point of addressing equal pay on two shows you may have heard of: Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. And in both cases, she expanded the conversation to include the systemic inequality women face in the workplace and the many interwoven issues it raises for them; from how to mentor other women to how to deal with sexual harassment. In a world where women work as hard as men, or harder, to earn significantly less, women face unique and complicated pressures around identity and worth. Both of the characters addressing the pay gap on these shows were African-American women, and that’s significant.
Black women working full-time in this country are paid, on average, just 60 cents for every dollar paid to white men,compared with white women who received slightly more at 79 cents; Hispanic and Latina women are paid just 55 cents. Those are shameful statistics, and I don’t imagine any man would want to look his female colleagues in the eye and tell them that they deserve only a fraction of what he makes. After all, there’s no ‘women’s discount’ on rent, utilities or any of life’s other necessities.
Despite the discrepancies in pay throughout the country, 60% of women in the U.S. believe they are being compensated fairly as compared to men, according to a recent study by Glassdoor. That’s because for most people, information about pay is secret. Many executives don’t analyze wage data and never truly realize how much less they pay the women who work for them than the men who do the same thing. Companies discourage employees from talking about their salaries. We’re always told that it isn’t polite to talk about money, but without these conversations, nothing is going to change.
The solution to the pay gap is transparency. I’m not talking about revealing people’s individual salaries. There are ways to share pay information about job categories—just as President Obama recently proposed in an Executive Order—that would help shed some light on the extent of the problem. And if that data was public, women and men would have the tools they need to fight for equality.
This fight is vital; it’s vital to our nation’s economic health and security, for this generation, and for every generation to come. We cannot afford to let this issue fade quietly away, to be stirred up like a dust storm when a high-profile person raises the issue, only to settle down again, unresolved, when the moment has passed.
We must seize this moment instead—this one, right now—and fight for real change. This fight is currently being led by incredible women, but men have a crucial place in this fight as well. The rewards for success on this front are profound. Equal pay brings us all closer to making good on a fundamental promise we long ago made to ourselves, the promise that we are ALL created equal.
Jeff Perry is an actor on the television show, Scandal, and an activist with the Make It Work campaign, an organization advocating for better workplace policies for working families. Jeff and Make It Work recently released a new musical comedy addressing the need for equal pay.