November 21, 2008 posted by Kyla Bender-Baird [caption id="attachment_722" align="alignleft" width="258" caption="Ellen Bravo, Lilly Ledbetter, Pamela Stone"] [/caption] Despite years of legislative lobbying, grassroots activism, and extensive research, the gender wage gap has remained largely unchanged in the past two decades. Women on average still earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men and are often marginalized in minimum-wage jobs. Having children, furthermore, increases men’s earning potential while decreasing women’s incomes. To address these continuing inequalities, the Equal Pay Coalition NYC—spearheaded by the New York Women’s Agenda  —gathered a panel of experts and activists at Hunter College Wednesday morning. Partners for the event included the National Council for Research on Women  and the National Women’s Law Center . Maria Hinojosa, managing editor of PBS, moderated. The panel included Ellen Bravo (former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women), Edward Ott (Executive Director of the New York City Central Labor Council), Donna Pedro (a diversity compensation expert), Dr. Pamela Stone (professor of gender equity) and Lilly Ledbetter whose Title VII pay discrimination lawsuit rejuvenated the movement for pay equity.
In her opening remarks, Jennifer Raab—President of Hunter College—stated that fair pay is a foundation of equal rights. The New York City Council passed two resolutions last year demanding equal pay at state and federal levels. A recent GAO report , however, found that a 20% pay gap has remained consistent throughout the past 20 years.
How do we move this conversation forward, Hinojosa asked. And in particular, how do we reach out to young women to ensure that the campaign does not stop until fair pay is achieved? One strategy is to broaden the language of pay equity so that it is more inclusive and representative of reality. Instead of framing the issue as a “woman’s issue,” talk about pay equity as a family issue and as integral to the economic security of our nation, suggested Ellen Bravo. Sixty percent of New York households are headed by a woman. As NCRW’s fact sheet on minimum wage  points out, women and working families benefit most from increasing minimum wage and securing pay equity.
Rather than another bailout, Ott suggested that the new administration pass the Employee Free Choice Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act as part of an economic stimulus package. Along these lines, NCRW’s Big Five Campaign  has outlined key elements to ensuring economic security as well: guaranteed paid leave, raising the minimum wage, affordable and accessible child care, and ending predatory lending practices.
The panelists agreed that we also need workplace protections designed for mothers specifically. While 19 states have laws prohibiting discrimination based on marital status, only 1 (Alaska) prohibits discrimination based on family responsibilities. Several panelists felt that discrimination against mothers—aka the “mommy penalty”-- may be the last frontier of sexism, a battle organizations like MomsRising  have been fighting for a number of years now to expose. In the wake of the election, we are living in an economically challenging time, but one rife with opportunity. One thing is clear: fair pay for all is long overdue. For further reading, check out these reports: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap  report finding a persistent gender gap in economics and political representation The Economic Status of Women in New York State , commissioned by the New York Women’s Foundation