voices

By: Jim Longworth

In the two years since Donald Trump was elected, women across the country have staged some pretty impressive rallies to make their voices heard. They marched on Washington, they launched the Me Too Movement, and this past November they elected a record number of their own gender to local, state, and federal offices. Mission accomplished, right? Not exactly. For example, last year, women’s groups spent a great deal of time shining a much-needed light on sexual harassment, and their protests netted results. Men in power who had sexually harassed or assaulted women were identified, fired, fined, tried, convicted, and otherwise disgraced for their behavior, while the rest of us guys were schooled on what not to do or say to women, especially in the workplace. All that’s well and good, but meanwhile, the most widespread abuse of women at work continues unabated–a systematic disparity in pay.

Late last year the Greensboro News & Record reported on a new study by the American Association of University Women, which detailed the level of pay disparities in every state. In North Carolina, women fare a bit better than the national average, but they still only earn about 84 cents for every dollar a man makes for doing the same job. Even worse, that pay gap isn’t projected to close until the year 2060. This, despite a number of laws that have been enacted over the years, should have fixed the problem by now.

In 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act at a time when women were making 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. The problem is that, initially, the EPA only applied to women in blue collar jobs. In 1972, the Act was amended to cover women in white collar jobs as well. But progress was still slow, and in 2009, President Obama signed into law the Fair Pay Act, which hasn’t made a dent in the problem either. In 2015, I wrote a column about this very topic, and at that time, women in North Carolina were making 83 cents to every dollar earned by men. Congratulations ladies, it’s nearly four years later, and you’ve closed the pay gap by a whole penny. So why aren’t we making more progress?

One reason pay disparity still exists is that none of the three Acts addressed the problem of how we calculate equal work. The original EPA was structured so that a woman with a grievance had to file a sex discrimination claim, and prove that she was making less money than a man who was doing the exact same work. But let’s say a man was asked to work overtime, and his female counterpart wasn’t. Their job descriptions may have been the same, yet she ended up making less money. It was a grievance she couldn’t win. On top of that, she may hold the same job as a man, but if he was reviewed by a male supervisor as having a higher level of productivity than the woman, then she was also out of luck.

The other reason that the gender pay gap still exists is that most companies are still run by men. According to a 2015 report by ThinkProgress.org, there are only 48 female CEOs heading up the top 1,000 corporations. That means only 4.8 percent of the top jobs in America are held by women. And even when women head up a company, chances are their board is still dominated by men. I’m not saying that male CEO’s are only hiring men, but, for the most part, a male executive isn’t going to be as sensitive to the problem of pay disparity as would a woman executive. Unless that dynamic changes or the Me Too Movement expands its mission to include salary harassment, or women take over Congress, then women in the workplace will have to endure another 41 years of “labor pains.”

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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