Tuesday, April 12, will mark Equal Pay Day, the annual day symbolizing how many additional days in the year women have to work to earn the same amount as men.
One would expect Equal Pay Day to be occurring earlier every year, as we focus more attention on policies and laws to help boost pay equity, but the reality is that the wage gap has barely budged over the past 10 years. This is mainly due to employers that perpetuate wage inequities by anchoring women to their prior salaries.
Women in California now make 84 cents for every dollar a white man makes. For African American and Hispanic women, the wage gap is at 63 and 44 cents, respectively, for every $1 a white man makes. For these women, it is extremely difficult to ever catch up in pay because employers will use their reduced prior salaries to try and get a bargain.
To help put an end to this insidious cycle of gender wage inequities in the labor market, Assembly member Nora Campos has introduced AB 1676* to prohibit employers from basing salary decisions on prior earnings. By allowing women to negotiate a salary based on more objective criteria, like education and experience, and not be penalized by lower earnings in a previous job, women will have a better chance to catch up in pay.
Basing salary decisions on prior earnings not only adversely impacts women who were discriminated against in a prior job, but also women who may have left the job market after having kids.
Government officials recently started recognizing the discriminatory impact that prior salaries can have on women in the job market. Last April, on Equal Pay Day, the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advised employers on important steps they could take to ensure equal pay for equal work, including eliminating “discriminatory pay gaps on the basis of prior salary …”
Additionally, in July of last year, the acting director of the Federal Office of Personnel Management provided guidance on advancing pay equality in the federal government, warning that reliance on salary history “could potentially adversely affect a candidate who is returning to the workplace after having taken extended time off from his or her career or for whom an existing rate of pay is not reflective of the candidate’s current qualifications or existing labor market conditions.”
Courts have also warned employers against relying on salary history to try to drive down bargains during salary negotiations. In a recent pay discrimination case in California, a female math consultant challenged her employer’s policy of basing her incoming salary on prior earnings, which put her at $20,000 less than her male counterpart who was doing the same work. The court stated that the employer’s pay structure was “so inherently fraught with the risk—indeed, here, the virtual certainty—that it will perpetuate a discriminatory wage disparity between men and women that it cannot stand, even if motivated by a legitimate non-discriminatory business purpose.”
It’s time for us to take a stand on discriminatory policies that systematically devalue women and perpetuate gender wage inequities. We need to provide women with a fair opportunity to close earning gaps during salary negotiations and compel employers to use objective and unbiased measures to evaluate candidates. AB 1676 will do just that, giving women the ability to finally achieve pay equity in the workplace.
Mariko Yoshihara is the policy director for the California Employment Lawyers Association and a member of The Stronger Calif♀rnia Advocates Network.
* A staffer for Assembly member Nora Campos submitted this op-ed to San Jose Inside.— Editor