Pay Equity, January 2000

Denver Women's Commission
Pay Equity, January 2000

January 10, 2000,
Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News


The good news—Women now earn about 75c for each dollar earned by men, up from about 59c in 1961. The bad news—Sixty four per cent of the cause of the narrowing gap is the fall in men’s real earning. At the rate the wage gap has changed over the past 15 years, it will take until 2038 to close the gap.

During this 2000 legislative session, Rep. Sue Windells will sponsor the Wage Non-Discrimination Act. Backed by a number of women’s organizations—Colorado Business and Professional Women, 9 to 5 –National Association of Working Women, Colorado Women’s Agenda, Women’s Lobby of Colorado, the Denver Women’s Commission and others—the model legislation is similar to those being introduced in a number of states. Among its provisions:

1. Makes it illegal to pay employees in a job dominated by a particular sex, race or national origin at a rate less than employees in equivalent jobs dominated by the opposite sex, or different race or national origin. Equivalent includes jobs that are dissimilar, but which require equivalent skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

-Excludes differential wage scales based on seniority or quality or quantity of work (piece-rates)
-“Market rates” is not a justifiable defense.

2. Requires employers to notify employees annually how their wages are calculated

3. Makes it illegal to fire or discriminate against an employee because he or she disclosed or discussed their wages with another.

4. Allows a phase-in period for businesses which conduct a self-audit identifying discriminatory practices.

5. Prohibits employers from lowering wages to close a wage gap.

6. Complaints would be filed with the Colorado Civil Right Division.

7. Those guilty of discrimination face repayment of back pay, attorney’s fees, and possible compensatory and punitive damages.

There are those who defend the pay gap as a mere result of women choosing motherhood over career. Women in their twenties earn close to what their male counterparts do. Childless women earn 95% of what men do. Yet, in that statistic, they compare all men with the less than 20% of women who do not become mothers. These women are more likely to be well educated and intensely career oriented.

The cumulative cost of the pay gap to an average women is $420,000 over her lifetime. And since pensions and social security are tied to earnings, women not only fall behind during their worklife, but their retirement as well.

While equal pay has repeatedly topped the polls of working women’s concerns, many women do not speak out. Retaliation is a common fear. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is the guiding principle. Many who would speak out can not get the data to begin with. Many companies prohibit employees from sharing information about their salaries, with threat of termination.

Beyond this legislation, how can we narrow the pay gap? Unionized women have a much smaller gap than those who are not. Union women earned more than men not represented by a union. Education increases a women’s earning, but a woman with a college degree earns about what a man with a high school diploma does. Colorado ranks fourth in the per cent of women with four or more years of college, yet Colorado women still earn only 75% of what men do.

Women seeking pay equity with men should consider nontraditional employment—skilled trades, firefighting, engineer, etc. Women entering these fields face intense scrutiny due to their visibility in defying gender stereotypes. It is also preciously these professions in which a woman is more likely to face the extra challenge of sexual harassment. Women have made remarkable progress integrating certain high paid career fields—attorneys, dentists, doctors, accountants, etc. But others remain almost exclusively men – airline pilots, engineers, firefighters, etc.

Certainly part of the wage gap is because women tend to work in low paid jobs like child care or the service industry. But even within the same occupations, gender difference and wage gaps persist. Men tend to sell cars and other high end products. Women tend to sell perfume in the mall and other lower wage positions.

Some argue that women “choose” low paid jobs because they offer more “flexibility” and shorter hours, making them easier to combine with caregiving responsibilities. While this may be true for some women, many women just take the best job available. Many take more than one job to provide for their family, because a single job does not pay enough. Many of the jobs with the strictest policies against absenteeism and tardiness are low-wage marginal jobs.

Why should mothers and other caregivers be penalized life-long? Do not men have as many children as women? More than 62% of