Women are making their voices heard in 2018 and sharing their stories with #MeToo and #TimesUp. They are taking to the streets around the world and mobilizing to vote their values in the U.S. midterm elections in November. With all of this forward momentum, women are on track to effect serious change, and some indicators show that closing the gender pay gap could also become one of this year’s accomplishments.
On the world stage, Iceland takes the lead, becoming the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women for doing the same job. The new rules stipulate that all companies and government agencies employing at least 25 people will have to obtain government certification of their equal-pay policies. Employers will face fines if they are found to be in violation. The current gender pay gap in Iceland is about 14% to 18%, which the government reportedly plans to eradicate by 2022.
In the U.S. the private sector and many state agencies are starting to step up. Amazon is aligning its policies with those of Google, Facebook, and Cisco, who are now legally banned from asking prospective hires in California about their salary histories, thanks to a new law that took effect on January 1. The law currently applies only to employees in California, but most of the companies have proactively applied the law to all of their U.S. hires. Massachusetts, Oregon, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco have passed similar laws over the past couple of years as well. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy just signed an executive order banning state agencies—though not private companies—from asking about salary histories. (The rule takes effect on Feb. 1). New York, Delaware, New Orleans, Pittsburg, and Albany already have similar laws in effect.
This is good news for women, because the goal of removing salary history from the application process is to make compensation more equitable. When an employer knows how much an applicant is currently making, it’s easier to figure out the lowest possible offer he or she is likely to accept. While it’s technically illegal to pay women less than a man for doing the same job, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that it’s perfectly fine if the reason for paying a woman less is a low pay rate at her last job.
Eliminating this question from the equation is a definite step towards closing the pay gap. Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center, says the salary history question “forces women to carry pay discrimination with them from job to job.”
Citigroup is also taking steps, announcing in January that it will raise pay for women and minorities to close the gap with men and whites. The bank’s head of human resources, Michael Murray, said Citigroup Inc. conducted a survey in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, and is dedicated to pay equity to attract top talent.
All of these are important steps towards closing the pay gap. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s state-by-state research found that a girl born in the United States in 2017 has a life expectancy of 87 years. At the current pace of change, when that girl turns 65 in 2082 a wage gap will still remain in 13 states.
However, that’s only if we continue down our current path, so as my Leading Women co-author Gloria Feldt writes, let’s not. “Changing policy can help and every nation should follow Iceland’s lead, but we also have to change the culture by knowing our value and insisting upon getting paid fairly for it. All that programming that taught us not to ask for certain things, really just taught us to value ourselves less than we value others. The remedy – the one and only thing that ultimately can close the pay gap – is right under our noses, in our mouths and informed by our hearts: the courage to speak up.”
The fact we are still discussing the gender pay gap and celebrating these small, and not so small steps, is both good and bad. Good in the sense that it is creating top-of-mind awareness, and bad that it is still an issue at all. Women have momentum right now, and as we work towards equality in all sectors, equal pay needs to be a priority. We need to point out the injustices, ask for what we want, make our case for why we deserve equal pay, and settle for nothing less.