2nd Annual Equal Pay Day Leadership Luncheon: Focus on Origins and Solutions to Pay Inequality for Women

This article originally appeared in the Lawyers Club of San Diego‘s newsletter.

2014 Equal Pay Day Luncheon

The second annual Equal Pay Day Leadership Luncheon, held on April 8, 2014, served to illuminate ongoing challenges women still face when it comes to earning equal pay for equal work performed by men. Though it remains unjust that women earn on average 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, with women of color earning even less, the panel of nationally recognized speakers did a terrific job of illuminating potential reasons for the continuing disparity. Moreover, all speakers proposed practical, applicable solutions for combating the inequality.

Sponsored by Lawyers Club of San Diego, and supported by more than two dozen forward-thinking local organizations and business, April 8, 2014 marked Equal Pay Day, and the luncheon was timed in conjunction with President Obama’s signing of two significant orders. The first was an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees for discussing their compensation – thereby encouraging transparency. The second order signed was a Presidential Memorandum which requires federal contractors to collect summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race, which would allow the Department of Labor to use the data to encourage compliance with equal pay laws and assist enforcement efforts.

Those in attendance were fortunate to hear compelling talks from some of the most respected experts in the fields of inequality in labor, legal and auditing services, and workplace negotiation.

Kelly Jenkins-Pultz, Acting Regional Administrator, United States Department of Labor (DOL) Women’s Bureau Region 9, opened the discussion by offering insight into the roots of inequality in pay for women. To fully understand why, after more than 50 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women are still short-changed, we must look at the causes. Kelly reported that equal pay issues begin arising even before most women enter the work place. They begin in our education. Because women tend to gravitate towards liberal arts degrees, whereas male counterparts dominate industries such as computer science and engineering, women are effectively, though unintentionally, positioning themselves for careers in lower paying industries and occupations.

Moreover Kelly provided a birds-eye view of what happens as both men and women grow in professional experience and then proceed to grow families. By age 35, she reported the disparity between men’s and women’s earnings becomes even greater. Men who start families are rewarded for being “family men,” while women who choose to have families are deemed less focused on their careers, and their paychecks reflect that.

Kelly’s message however, was one of hope, and encouragement. Her suggested means of leveling the playing field for all included increasing the minimum wage, a commitment to ongoing Equal Pay Act legislation, and an evolving culture, which changes its view on women who balance families and careers in the work place.

Next, Dan Kuang, Ph.D., Vice President of Legal and Audit Support Services, Biddle Consulting Group, Inc., brought forth a powerful claim as to why such large pay gaps exist amongst women and men of equal talent, education and experience. For Dr. Kuang, it all begins with starting salaries. Women often accept lower starting salaries than men. Rather than negotiating for a higher salary (as men tend to do), women in general accept their first offer, as women who negotiate are often perceived as demanding. By contrast, employers typically value a man’s negotiation efforts in a favorable light.

Ann Marie Houghtailing, renowned negotiations expert, served as the closing speaker. She opened her presentation by saying, “In 20 minutes or less, I’m going to teach you how to earn your worth tomorrow.” Ann Marie proceeded to do just that. She focused on two primary areas where women can work to ensure equal pay.

The first requirement for women seeking equal pay is to negotiate rigorously. She recommended negotiating all aspects of equity. Far from just countering on salary offers, Ann Marie suggested negotiating a mentor relationship, work-life balance, and more. She also encouraged all women to ask directly for what they want in salary and benefits, rather than hanging their hope on the idea that if they just work harder, their efforts will be recognized and rewarded. Ann Marie also explained the need for building a book of business, beginning from the first day on a job. It will only make women more valuable, and thus reduce the likelihood of unequal pay in future positions.

Unfortunately since the luncheon, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have made it easier for women to recognize and challenge unequal pay practices, was blocked for the third time in the U.S. Senate. Yet, for all who are committed to fair pay for women, this will serve only to provide a temporary setback, rather than a complete roadblock. Events such as the 2014 Equal Pay Day luncheon will only help us to pave the way to a more fair system, through educating all employees on ways to ensure equal pay.

Personally, I couldn’t have been more honored to be in attendance amongst so many brilliant minds, all working towards the unified goal of equal pay for all people, regardless of sex or color. The luncheon certainly brought to mind the cliché that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ and thus even with recent setbacks, we are bit by bit, laying a solid foundation for a fair future.

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