Diversity & Inclusion

Steps to take toward gender equality

by Dinita James

In the mid-1970s, I wore an ERA bracelet in support of ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I also had a button that displayed only two numbers and a symbol ― 62 ¢.

The 62 cents signified the then-current national average of women’s earnings for every dollar earned by men. Some four decades later, the ERA appears to be a constitutional dead letter, and women earn about 81 cents on the dollar compared with their male peers.  UnequalPay

Arizona leads the states

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that Arizona’s gender wage gap is the narrowest of all 50 states. Women in Arizona earn about 87 cents for every dollar earned by men.

That’s certainly a statistic worth celebrating. It will be interesting to see if the wage gap narrows further or widens as the state’s economy continues to recover from the Great Recession and median wages increase, especially because Arizona now ranks 35th among the 50 states in median wage rates.

Call to action

In his January 28, 2014, State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on business leaders and lawmakers to “do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.” Those remarks drew a loud and animated ovation from the members of Congress and other dignitaries in attendance. On April 8, Obama celebrated national Pay Equity Day by signing two orders meant to help promote equal opportunity in the workplace. The first was an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other and another, and the second was a presidential memorandum directing the U.S. Department of Labor to promulgate rules requiring federal government contractors to provide compensation data based upon the race and sex of their employees.

There are plenty of laws on the books already requiring equal pay for equal work. The federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) requires you to pay men and women in the same establishment equal wages for performing substantially equal work requiring substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many state laws likewise prohibit you from discriminating on the basis of pay by steering women into lower- paying jobs, unfairly denying them promotions, and engaging in other forms of discrimination that affect pay.

Do the right thing

You would be wise to follow a few simple steps to ensure gender pay equity in your workplace:

  • Evaluate your compensation system at least annually for potential pay disparities based on race, ethnicity, or gender.
  • Make sure to assess all forms of compensation, including bonuses, shift differentials, and overtime.
  • Evaluate how you assign employees to specific jobs. Don’t make assumptions about what they can and cannot do.
  • Assess whether your performance evaluation process results in ratings that disadvantage women or any other protected class.
  • If starting pay is subject to negotiation, assess whether the practice has an adverse impact on women or minority workers.
  • Most important, correct problems as soon as you discover them.

One new law

The one relatively new law in the pay equity area is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law President Obama signed when he took office in 2009. The law means that you can be liable for pay decisions that were made years and years ago if the person who was adversely affected by the decisions is still receiving a paycheck that’s lower than she would receive but for the unlawful pay decisions.

In 2014, there’s simply no good reason not to pay your female employees equal pay for equal work. Shout-outs to all of you who have been working on it.

Dinita L. James, is the partner in charge of the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan LLP. She may be contacted at dinita_james@gshllp.com.