Addressing the Gender Pay Gap & Inequalities

By Rachael Wyant

 

There’s been a lot of attention to the gender-pay gap recently in mainstream media. From Jennifer Lawrence and Robin Wright demanding more transparency and equality in high paying entertainment roles, to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filing a lawsuit, citing the discrepancy between their contributions to the success of the organization relative to the men’s team including gap in compensation and bonuses.

These stories are found across all sectors today; female CEOs, who make up a mere fraction of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies, make significantly less than their male counterparts, and are penalized to a greater degree with fluctuations in stock prices and revenues for their companies. We see this with women in academia: women are less likely to receive tenure-track positions, and are paid less than men of the same academic standings.

This says a lot about how far we’ve come societally. The Equal Pay Act was signed into law on June, 10 1963, yet women across the board perform work of greater or equal value to men and are still compensated poorly. What norms does this reflect about the intelligence, voice, efforts, time, and bodies of women in our culture? And if it’s so pervasive—and well documented– in the top 1% of female earners, what’s the situation of everyone else?

The “gender-pay gap”—as well as discrimination and unequal access to social protection—goes beyond discrepancies between men and women. If we are to truly address inequality and poverty, we must look to gaps among women themselves.

Female CEOS make an average annual salary of $18.8 million. The top paid female soccer players are raking in between $450,000, plus some bonuses. Women in large corporations have access to human resources and legal representation when faced with harassment and discrimination. They often receive benefits for themselves and their families with health insurance, paid leisure time and employer contributions to pensions.

A wider view of the labor market tells a much different tale. 26.8% of women work in low-wage jobs in New York; for example, women dominate service and care industries, with average annual wages of $ 26,200 (2014) and $20,490, respectively. The median income for women in the state is $43,800–and they’re making less than 88% of what men make. And within these low-wage sectors, there’s incredible racial disparity: African American child care workers make almost twice what Latina childcare workers earn ($21,400 compared to $11, 200).

And wages are only the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the situation of women at work-harassment, discrimination, lack of long-term job security and unregulated working conditions threatening the livelihoods and security of thousands of women. These issues have been gaining more mainstream attention, many based in New York, such as the Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward, strong worker organizing through the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Urban Justice Center, and outreach and education initiatives like the Nanny Van.

This is reflected in the recent Women’s Equality Agenda passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for New York State, which address some of these critical issues: including violence against women in the work force, pregnancy protection, paid family leave, bringing an end to familial status and employment discrimination, and strengthening human trafficking laws.

The recently approved state budget for 2016 has also attempted to include some of these pressing priorities. Estimated at $150 billion, Cuomo had wins with high-profile policy measures such as New York City’s $15 incremental minimum wage increase and 12 weeks of paid time off.

As austerity cuts to social protection programs, job training, health insurance and housing subsidies disproportionally impact women, the budget also looks to residents’ abilities to earn an adequate standard of living. It contains income tax cuts beginning in 2018 for those making below $300,000, and takes measures to increase budgets for local school districts. $20 billion will be going toward homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

If we’re serious about closing the gender-wage gap, and coming together to address severe levels of inequality in this country, we’ve got to do better than just budget allocations.

As the presidential elections approach, it is essential that we begin to change the conversation around women’s work and our economy: paid family leave, violence in the workplace, and flexible scheduling for care giving aren’t just “women’s issues. They are issues that deeply impact our society as a whole and prevent cities and neighborhoods from flourishing. Recognition of the problems is only the first step: the real work begins when we assess and improve the impacts of these services on the everyday lives of people.

What does economic policy have to do with it?

Thank you for your messages on my last blog! Many of you shared when you thought about human rights; issues ranged from violence, racial profiling, access to healthcare, prisoner rights, voter rights, rights of older people, and the list goes on. Clearly, we do think about human rights, but when we do … who do we hold accountable? Do economic ministries or the treasury come to mind? We rarely think about financial institutions, economic policy makers, and central banks as promoting or eroding human rights. Well they do, and here is a current example:

Lately, mainstream media’s attention has been focused on governments entering into austerity due to the economic crisis. Governments are trying to confront the negative impacts of the crisis by cutting spending on social sectors such as education, housing, and social security, without realizing the detrimental and regressive effects this has on the achievement of human rights. Our well-being is dependent on basic services and often government expenditures on specific services, such as education and health, which directly impacts our realization of human rights.

Governments have the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill economic and social rights; each of these obligations requires governments to take action (conduct) and have impact (result). How could we go about measuring how our governments are doing on economic and social rights? Here’s an idea:

I might ask, “is the distribution of government spending going to basic social services that promote economic and social rights and is that spending reaching vulnerable groups?” In societies with inequality, vulnerable groups often do not receive adequate entitlements; those countries therefore fail to uphold the human rights principle of non-discrimination and equality.

Tell us how you see the current economic situation impacting your human rights.

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University