Years ago, at my second job post-college, my friend and coworker asked me to share my salary. I said no, but she persisted. We were both about to have salary reviews and she argued we had no way to benchmark our raises if we had no idea what others in the firm were getting paid. It made sense, so we snuck into the stairwell of our office building to swap data in secrecy –we were under the impression we could be fired for sharing our pay.
It turns out she was paid $1000 more annually than me. So while in reality our salaries were practically the same, at the time it seemed like a big deal. She gloated. I pouted. And I vowed never to share salary information again – nothing good could come from it.
A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) titled, “Pay Secrecy and Wage Discrimination,” discusses how pay transparency might reduce the gender wage gap. Today, women earn, on average, 23 percent less than men. And 40 percent of pay inequity can be attributed to pay discrimination.*
But with approximately half of all workers in the United States contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with coworkers, per an IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security, there is virtually no way to discover pay discrimination.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Walmart v. Dukes case presented data in the court room pointing to a gender-based pay gap at the giant retailer. But in a place where the evidence “suggests that gender bias suffused” the culture, pay secrecy would have made confirming that data a challenge for women on the job. And Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named, worked at Goodyear for almost two decades before she received an anonymous note tipping her off to the fact she was paid less than men doing the same work.
The Paycheck Fairness Act which was reintroduced this year by Senator Mikulski and Rep. DeLauro after it was rejected by the Senate last fall, will help combat pay secrecy. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote in the Huffington Post that the Paycheck Fairness Act, “would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for sharing salary information with their co-workers. The legislation would also establish training groups to help women strengthen their negotiation skills, enforce equal pay laws for federal contractors, and require the Department of Labor to work with employers to eliminate wage disparities through better outreach and training.”
Contact your representatives in Congress and ask them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
*”The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as They Can?” (Blau and Kahn, 2007)