Why We Need the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act is up for vote in the Senate this Friday – November 19 – and it hasn’t quite mustered the 60 votes needed for safe passage. Urge your senators to pass the act (unless, of course, you have a better tool for getting closer to gender parity in the workplace, or just think women should be valued less).

Think this bill is imperfect? It is, but not so much that we shouldn’t pass it. And what law or bill isn’t imperfect? Many businesses are up in arms, claiming that the floodgates of frivolous lawsuits are going to open. Why would they think this? Do they believe that if women had access to the salary info of their male equals in the workplace, that the disparities – when controlling for education, experience and job performance – would undoubtedly provide valid grounds for lawsuits? Shouldn’t individual employers be held accountable in some way for the pay gap when they themselves perpetuate it?

As Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison of Newsweek point out:

Consider this survey from Catalyst, which found that female M.B.A.s who’ve made exactly the “right” life choices—no intention to have children, top-tier schools, high aspirations—still earn $4,600 less per year in their first jobs out of business school. Or U.S. Department of Education data, which separated pay by job sector to determine that whether women who go into teaching or business, social work or science—and before they’ve had the chance to cripple themselves by “life choices” (these are young, childless women we’re talking about)—they will still make roughly 20 percent less than the men they work with. “The last decade was supposed to be the ‘promised one,’ and it turns out it wasn’t,” says James Turley, the CEO of Ernst & Young, which helped fund the recent M.B.A. study.

(Catalyst’s data can be found here)

Furthermore, do you

Remember Lilly Ledbetter? After nearly two decades of employment at Goodyear, a colleague left her an anonymous note with her salary and the salaries of three of her male colleagues. She was stunned to find out that she was earning less for doing similar work. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court. She won, but the justices ruled that she couldn’t get her back pay because the discrimination began 20 years ago. Ledbetter didn’t sue earlier because she didn’t know about the pay disparity; to the court, that didn’t matter. Congress has since fixed this problem—with the support of Sens. Collins and Snowe. Yet to this day, employers can retaliate against an employee who merely wants to know what her colleagues earn (and yes, that includes firing). (Heather Boushey of Slate)

Perhaps you are indifferent, and of the ‘why should I care?’ population that makes up the majority of America. And no, this law isn’t going to dramatically change anything, not overnight. It is merely the next step towards ensuring fairer compensation, which will help everyone. How many men and families are in no way affected by the paychecks of the women in their lives (or the paychecks they could command)? Girlfriends, daughters, mothers, etc.? Wouldn’t it benefit everyone if women weren’t penalized for being women when it comes to monetarily valuing the work they do?

How can you not care?