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Coming Closer to Pay Parity for Women

The Equal Pay Act outlawed employers from gender-discriminatory pay practices in 1963, but pay still isn’t entirely equal. Now, legislation seeks to expand existing law to enact more protections against male-female pay disparities. Fed up, women are “leaning in” hard on this one, which means the Paycheck Fairness Act, twice rejected by Congress, might now stand a better chance of becoming law.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and several co-sponsors are fighting to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would give teeth to a 50-year-old law riddled with enough loopholes to render it ineffective.

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The new bill, would “make it harder to pay women less for the same job,” writes Whitney Joiner in the June issue of Marie Claire.

Here’s a look at some of the differences between existing law and the proposed revisions.

Equal Pay Act

Existing law allows employers to pay women less only for reasons of seniority, merit and productivity. Doesn’t really protect against managers who make up excuses for thinly veiled sexist reasons like “personality” or something tough to pinpoint.

A plaintiff successful in court can demand back pay for two prior years, though no punitive damages.

Under this act, you can’t disclose your pay with colleagues. In fact, about half of private companies penalize a worker for disclosing pay to a colleague. That’s why it’s really up to companies to lead the charge in pay equity.

Paycheck Fairness Act

Under Gillibrand’s proposed bill, employers can pay women less than men based on productivity, seniority, merit or a (honestly) legit professional reason (say, the guy has more credentials, for example).

In court, a plaintiff can sue for two years’ back retroactive pay with medical and retirement benefits and punitive damages.

Under this new act, you would get to share salary information with your peers, which could grant women a powerful edge in pay negotiations.

It should be noted that although census data shows that women make markedly less than their male counterparts, PayScale analysis shows that part of the reason is because women are vastly underrepresented in high-paying fields like technology and engineering.

“Some of it is about personal choice: Men are more apt to pursue careers in high-paying fields like computer science, engineering, and finance, while women are more likely to go into education, child care, and social sciences—careers that pay less (Why those fields pay less is another story altogether),” Joiner notes in her Marie-Claire article) “We’re more likely to leave the workforce or go part-time during our corporate-ladder climb to start or take care of families. But our personal choices don’t explain away the gap entirely: Even when we don’t leave the workplace, we’re paid less. Even when we choose careers in science, tech, and engineering, we’re paid less. We’re even paid less right out of college.”

It’s complicated. The disparity’s there, but it exists for a number of reasons ranging from sociologically ingrained discrimination, personal choice and incomplete legislation. At least fortifying legal protections gets us closer to some semblance of equity.

You got to start somewhere.

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More from PayScale

Equal Pay Day is Misleading

High-Paying Jobs Have the Biggest Gender Wage Gap

Fallacy of the Gender Wage Gap

(Photo Credit: Shuttershock)

Jennifer Wadsworth
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