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On Equal Pay Day, how far have we come?

Equal Pay Day occurs on a Tuesday to show how far into the next work week women would have to work to make as much as men did the previous week.
Image: A woman holds a sign that reads, \"Equal Pay\" during \"A Day Without A Woman\" demonstration in Miami
A woman holds a sign that reads, "Equal Pay" during "A Day Without A Woman" demonstration on March 8, 2017 in Miami.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, Americans come together to raise awareness for Equal Pay Day, which was launched by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 to illustrate the wage gap between men and women. The current wage gap, based on ACS Census data, has women earning 80 cents for every dollar a male worker earns. Equal Pay Day occurs on a Tuesday to show how far into the next work week women would have to work to make as much as men did the previous week. The day is also marked by wearing red to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay.

Below you will find some important things you should know about Equal Pay Day, including the scope of the current gender wage gap in the U.S., what obstacles are standing in the way of real progress for pay equality and ways you can make your voice heard today and moving forward.

The gender wage gap

According to Korn Ferry’s Gender Pay Index, which analyzed gender and pay for more than 1.3 million employees in 777 companies, women in the U.S. make on-average 17.6 percent less than men make. However, the Korn Ferry Gender Pay Index also found that when evaluating the same job level, the gap plummeted to 7 percent. And when considering the same level at the same company, the gap fell to 2.6 percent. When the data is further narrowed to the same company, at the same level of work and the same function, the gap falls to 0.9 percent.

“Our data show that women earn nearly 20 percent less than men as a whole, which is a real, significant issue, but this doesn’t paint a complete picture,” said Maryam Morse, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. “While there are still a number of organizations that pay women less for the same role, on average, when we compared women and men in the same jobs, the gap is significantly reduced.” In other words, it’s not that women and men have that much pay disparity when in the same roles, but that men tend to be employed in more senior positions and in higher-paying industries.

“There has been a lot of progress over the years in equal pay for equal work,” Morse said. “The issue we face today is that there aren’t enough women in higher levels of organizations and in higher paying fields, like tech, finance and R&D.” She added “Women clearly have the skills and competencies to succeed in higher-paying roles, and it's an organization's imperative to help them get there.”

What’s still standing in the way of progress?

In 1963, more than 30 years before the first Equal Pay Day, the U.S. passed the Equal Pay Act. This law made it illegal for employers to pay men and women differently for similar work. During this time, women were earning just 59 percent of men’s wages. However, the law’s impact was limited, especially since women were not—and still today, often are not—employed in the highest-paying segments of the labor market.

Then, in 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a Supreme Court ruling that said employees could not bring a salary discrimination suit if more than 180 days passed since the initial wage discrimination occurred, even if it had continued. Essentially, this law restored protection against gender-based pay discrimination and allowed women to fight for pay equality regardless of when they were first discriminated against.

But continued progress hasn’t been easy. In 2014, just five years after President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Republicans blocked a bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it illegal for employers to penalize employees who discuss their salaries and would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay data from employers.

More recently, individual states have taken measures to report pay data to identify wage gaps and to help address them. Washington, for example, recently passed legislation that addresses gender discrimination and pay secrecy policies and ensures that workers who talk about their pay are not retaliated against.

How can companies help make change

Morse suggested that companies complete an analysis to understand their pay gap and determine a remediation process on how to close the gap. “Once the gap is understood, the organization should objectively review the key people processes to understand the root cause(s) of the gap, whether it be in hiring, the opportunity for development, advancement and promotion or bias in performance,” she said.

“Once organizations have done the work of ensuring bias-free people processes, the ongoing work is to deliberately focus on creating a culture of inclusiveness – diversity alone is not enough,” Morse said. “Inclusion is recognizing, valuing and fully leveraging the diversity of others to create a culture that promotes equality and delivers results.”

How employees can make a stand

While progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go, and just like years past, activists will find creative ways to make their voices heard on this year’s Equal Pay Day. In Washington, D.C., for example, a large coalition of equal pay advocacy groups will observe the day by gathering outside of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to hold a rally highlighting those most impacted by the wage gap. There will also be a “social media storm” to raise more awareness and take steps to further equal pay initiatives. A NYC Equal Pay Day Rally in City Hall Park in Manhattan will take place, as will a number of college events, such as a rally at UConn Women’s Center.

That said, closing the wage gap is a year-round effort, and steps can be taken by employees every day to help make change. It can range from negotiating your own salary from an informed place as a female employee to mentoring other women in the workplace. By encouraging other women to take on management roles and explore positions in high-paying industries, every action counts—and will ultimately bring us closer to closing the gap.