Tomorrow is Equal Pay Day, and although America has progressed from previous years, it is important to understand why this day has great significance. The past year has been pivotal in America's history as we bring more democratic change for minorities, women, children, and environmental issues. But, there is still one problem that isn’t getting address or is often considered out of sight out of mind. Equal pay! You might think “why is it important to discuss? We live in a free market society, if employees accept low wages, then that is their problem.” But there is more to this story than meets the eye, for a complete understanding why this is an issue we must dive deeper.
Meaning Behind Equal Pay Day
This is where we start to dissect the reason Equal pay day takes place on this specific day and month. This year Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 10, 2018. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) “This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.” Yes, you read that right, women would have to continue working until April 10th to earn as much money as their male counterparts within the same industry.
Not only was this month selected to a very specific reason, but so was the day. Equal pay day will always land on a Tuesday because according to the NCPE “Tuesday was selected to represent how far into the next work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week.” If both genders started working on Monday, a woman would have to continue working until Tuesday of next week to earn the same amount as her male coworker.
Why does it occur?
As previously mentioned this specific date is meant to bring awareness to the gender wage gap. There are many reasons why the pay gap can occur, but for the sake of time, we shall only discuss the top two in brief detail. Should you want to know more about why, Enji encourages you to do independent research.
It is no secret that women tend to receive more time for parental leave than men. On average women receive about 41 days of unpaid parental leave while men only receive 21 days. Not only is there a clear discrepancy among genders, but globally as well. The United States is the only developed country to deny paid parental leave as an employee right. Other countries offer paid maternity or parental leave and many European countries even offer assistantship after parental leave has ended.
Although it might seem like a benefit for new mothers to receive more time off, it takes a toll on their careers. Instead of being able to care for their child together or even alternate time off with their spouse, the mother is often forced to either leave her new infant or her career. Not only that, but there is a gender bias when it comes to childcare as well. Mothers are often placed in an awkward position to choose between being caretakers or their careers, with society placing heavy emphasis on wanting to decide for her.
These small biases will accumulate over the entire time of a career and will be reflected on her wages. Take too many sick days to care for a new child and a mother might be overlooked for a raise or promotion. To end this vicious cycle, we would have to demand equality for men as well. Fathers should be allowed to raise their children just as much as mothers.
We already spoke about some biases when it comes to parenthood, but the gender discrimination is still very much alive and well today. Oppressing women has been a systemic and integral part of the American History, and it wasn’t until 1963 that the Equal Pay Law was instituted by president John F. Kennedy that things shifted. The Equal Pay Law made it illegal to pay women lower wages for doing the same job as men.
But discrimination was still rampant in the workforce and companies used their power to bring about a culture where talking about your wage was taboo. To try to combat this, President Barack Obama overturned a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that denied employees the right to file a lawsuit against wage discrimination over 180 days since the initial wage discrepancy.
However, the problem wasn’t just systemic anymore, the discrimination became subtle and changed the culture of our society to value a woman’s work less than that of a man’s. The discrimination against women didn’t go away it evolved and became a part of our subconscious. That is why it is difficult to change, and any change made is slow.
What Can You Do To Help?
There are several ways you can personally combat the wage gap. The primary thing you can do is to become informed. This issue goes far deeper than you realize and has been integrated deeply into our social norms. However, being conscious of the problem is the first step in understanding why it needs to be dismantled. The more aware you are of the issue, the better you can communicate with those who are actively combating it and you can also help others become educated.
Secondly you can start breaking down the myth that talking about your salary is forbidden and taboo. According to section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employers cannot limit employees’ concerted activities for “collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection”, this means that it is illegal for a company to prohibit their employees from discussing benefits and wages. It is your right and privilege to make sure you and your co-workers are being treated fairly and equally. Do not be afraid that your co-workers will retaliate against you for making more, if anything they will work with management to ensure they are getting fair wages.
Third if you feel strongly about this issue, consider volunteering and taking a political stance. There are degrees to deciding how politically active you want to become. For example, if you want to spread the message and show you support the cause, but are too busy to join marches and sit in, consider wearing red on April 10th. The NCPE says “wearing RED on Equal Pay Day is used to symbolize how far women and minorities are "in the red" with their pay!” you can find small but meaningful ways to help change the narrative to this unjust wage gap. Do not be afraid to fight for what you believe in. Enji would never be who we are today, had we not been true to ourselves and stood up for what we believed in. So, we encourage everyone to learn for our example and start voicing your concerns today.