Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Women’s Entitlement to Equal Pay: A Primer

Marcia S. Cohen, speaking about equal pay
 I recently attended an event called Women’s Entitlement to Equal Pay: A Primer. It was a side event to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which happened from March 4 - 15. The main speaker was Marcia S. Cohen, Esq., PA, who mainly practices labor and employment law with a concentration in employment discrimination and sexual harassment. The event was moderated by Jerin Arifa, Chair of the National NOW Young Feminist Task Force, Chair. The event was cosponsored by The Women and Gender Studies Program at Hunter College and Young Feminists of NOW. You can read my notes on the event here.

I really enjoyed this event. I’ve written several research papers about Second Wave Feminism and early feminist gains, so I had prior knowledge about things like the Equal Pay Act (EPA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the history of employment and wage discrimination at large. Since I wrote a paper about the history of NOW, I was particularly familiar with the information presented about NOW’s involvement in trying to abolish much of this discrimination, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

I had always wondered exactly how employers got out of paying female employees less money, when there are laws like the EPA on the book. I figured there must be loopholes, but was ignorant of them until Cohen delineated all of the bogus exceptions there are to the EPA. One of them is an exception based on any factor other than sex. “Employers get very creative with [that] exception,” Cohen said with a laugh. I can only imagine how right she is.

One of the audience members mentioned that one of the many reasons for the wage gap is that women, upon beginning a job, don’t negotiate for a higher salary than the one they’re given, while men usually do. This is because women are cultured to be more submissive and passive, while men are encouraged to be assertive. I had no idea this was such a huge factor in pay inequality. I have to admit that when Cohen proposed a hypothetical situation - you get your dream job and they offer you a set salary, do you ask for more? - I never would have asked for higher pay. “Don’t just accept the offer,” she urged. Although I’m still several years away from entering the workforce, I will definitely keep this advice in mind when I do get job offers, with God’s help.
Jerin Arifa (on right) with two attendees

Another thing that really stood out to me was when Cohen mentioned several proposed bills that would have greatly helped attain pay equity, but were defeated in Congress by one party. It really frustrates me that the Democrats and Republicans can’t get together and just work for the greater good. Members of Congress just need to get over petty party differences and vote on what’s fair.

The process to report unequal pay, once a woman realizes that she’s receiving a lower salary to perform the same work as her male coworkers, also struck me. There are several steps, which can be spread out over a span of several years, and still come out completely fruitless - discrimination is found in only 6% of reported cases. This just shows that we are really in need of a new system, one that discovers inequity when it’s there and can actually help women who are victims of unfair employers.

Because this event did have a sort of negative tinge to it, Cohen and Arifa encouraged everyone in attendance to share their thoughts on equal pay and any positive stories about women’s advancement. This was an excellent idea, since it allowed us all to keep everything in focus and remember that the world isn’t just a bleak place where pay discrimination against women is rampant.

Cohen mentioned that when he was president in the 1950s, Eisenhower urged Congress to pass a bill narrowing the wage gap - he called it “simple justice.” Unfortunately, we are still about 23 cents away from attaining this simple justice. It is so important that we support our sisters who are victims of pay discrimination, and do everything in our power to end this pernicious social and economic trend.

No comments:

Post a Comment