President Obama Takes a Stand for Women on Equal Pay Day

8586290758_bff2c51eec_zWomen in the U.S. make roughly one-third less than men doing the same jobs, which means it would take a woman from January 1 to April 8 the following year (or more than 15 months) to earn what a man does in 12 months. That’s why workers across the country recognize today as Equal Pay Day—a reminder that we still have a long way to go to achieving gender equality in the workplace.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ban employers from punishing employers for speaking about their wages, was voted down in 2012 and is expected to fail again this week.

But President Obama is not waiting any longer for Congress to help fix the wage gap. He signed an executive order today that could make a huge difference in the way employers pay their workers.

“The time has passed for us to recognize that what determines success should not be our gender, but rather our talent, our drive, and the strength of our contributions,” Obama said. “Women make up nearly half of our nation’s workforce and are primary breadwinners in four in 10 American households with children under age 18. Yet from boardrooms to classrooms to factory floors, their talent and hard work are not reflected on the payroll.”

First, the executive order bans all federal contractors from retaliating against those who discuss their salaries with coworkers. Rules banning pay-related discussions have allowed employers to hide gender and race inequalities, as in the case of Lilly Ledbetter, who didn’t learn until it was too late that she was being underpaid. When Ledbetter finally discovered that she was making thousands less than her male co-workers and sued her employer, the Supreme Court ruled that she filed too long after her first unequal paycheck for the complaint to be valid. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a report in January that showed 51 percent of women are discouraged or prohibited from discussing their salaries with other employees—not to mention that there are policies in place that prohibit workers such as Ledbetter from discussing their pay.

The executive order also requires employers to provide data to the Labor Department explaining why they pay women and minorities less than white men. Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership of Women and Families noted,

The president’s actions will make America’s workplaces more fair, and its workers, families, business[es] and economy stronger.

To get involved on Equal Pay Day, tweet with the hashtag #Ask4More to start a conversation about raises for women. You can also urge your senator to take action to support equal pay.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user UweHiksch licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.



Lindsey O'Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.