Stalled in Washington, Gender Pay Gap Action Moves to Private Sector and Local Governments

The Republican capture of the Oval Office along with House and Senate majorities is bad news for women when it comes to closing the gender pay gap in the next four years. Nothing new there — we’ve already endured more than a half century with zero progress on equal pay in the U. S. Congress, and some not inconsequential losses in the courts since the Equal Pay Act passed way back in 1963. The gap in women’s pay compared to that of men for full-time year-round work, now at 79.6 cents on the dollar, has been stuck for over a decade.

But there is some good news: State and city governments are moving on their own, and the private sector is also stepping up.

The most innovative action is coming from cities — and it’s bi-partisan. It started with Albuquerque in 2015, when Republican Mayor Richard Berry pushed through an ordinance with the help of democrats on the city council requiring gender pay equity reporting by contractors as a condition of bidding for city business. It was the first such city action in the nation, and has since been mimicked in one form or another by San Francisco, Oakland, Erie County New York, and several smaller jurisdictions.

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In 2016, Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat, signed the Boston Women’s Workforce Council 100% Talent Compact, a different first-of-its-kind initiative. Companies signing the Compact (over 180 so far) agree to provide the Council with anonymous payroll data broken down by sex, race, job category, and length of employment.

Since it’s well known that when women start careers at a lower salaries than male counterparts the gap follows them throughout their working lives, several jurisdictions, including Massachusetts and Philadelphia, have recently prohibited private employers from asking about salary history when interviewing job applicants. New York City has put the same don’t-ask ban on city agencies. Others are sure to follow suit.

States are on the move in other ways as well. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order in January requiring state contractors to disclose gender, race, ethnicity, and salary of all employees.

California has amended its decades-old pay laws to require equal pay for “substantially similar” work, and prevent use of the ill-defined “factors other than sex” justification for pay differentials. Maryland expanded its law beyond pay disparities, barring employers from channeling workers into less favorable career tracks or limiting employment opportunities because of sex or gender identity. Missouri recently issued guidelines for employers to voluntarily conduct self - audits to remedy gender pay gaps, and make salary ranges by title public to job applicants.

The private sector is also starting to recognize that fair pay is good for business. Employees feel more valued when they know they’re not getting shorted in the paycheck department. That means workplace stress goes down with more time to concentrate on productivity with less turnover, saving money for employers.

While some such as Facebook have self-certified their pay scales, innovative companies like Hill+Knowlton Worldwide are going one better. Last year on Equal Pay Day (the day each year when women catch up to men’s earnings for the previous year) CEO Michael Coates announced an independent outside analysis of pay and promotion numbers to ensure the company is engaging in best practices.

With the federal government’s most likely attention to gender pay disparities in the present administration being “none,” women must look to progressive employers and local and state jurisdictions to move the needle on equal pay.

Fortunately it looks like that’s already happening.

Portions of this piece were published previously on LinkedIn

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