An old rotary phone sits next to a smart phone with the caption, "Things change. Why not the wage gap?"

New Wage Gap Numbers Aren’t So New

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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2012 gender wage gap numbers. And guess what. The wage gap still stands at 23 cents. That means a woman working full time, year-round still typically takes home 77 cents for every dollar a man takes home. Read more »

Blog   |   Economic Justice   |   8 Comments   |   September 17, 2013
Laura Dana Morgan led the 1913 study on women in the federal workforce.

You Haven’t Come a Long Way, Baby … Pay Equity since 1913

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as more women entered the workforce, Association of Collegiate Alumnae leaders realized that women were not being fairly compensated because of their gender. Soon after, the association released its first research report on pay equity in 1894. Read more »

Blog   |   Economic Justice   |   September 04, 2013
AAUW Fellow Allison White with Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi Rallies Texas Women at AAUW Event

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) received a Texas-sized welcome Monday from AAUW members and friends in the Lone Star State. Pelosi spoke in Austin about a new economic agenda for women. Read more »

Blog   |   Advocacy   |   2 Comments   |   August 28, 2013
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Happy Birthday, Social Security!

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As is customary on birthdays, today we celebrate you and the 78 years that you’ve made America a better place. Here’s to another year of fighting to keep you strong for women’s economic security. Read more »

Blog   |   Career and Workplace   |   2 Comments   |   August 13, 2013
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Engineer Took All the Right Steps But Still Didn’t Receive Fair Pay

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I was a divorced mother of two when I began pursuing an engineering degree in 1982. I had to overcome many obstacles such as an overwhelming male majority in the field, time management constraints, child care dilemmas, and finding a balance between motherhood and being a student. However, there was one obstacle I couldn’t overcome — pay inequity. Read more »

Employees working at a McDonald's restaurant

Minimum Wage Raise Critical for Women Workers

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For most employees, payday is a cause for celebration and an acknowledgement of a job well done. But for workers like Natalie Gunshannon, it can be a frustrating reminder of a flawed system that effectively pays them less than our already too-low federal minimum wage does. Especially for women, who are affected more than men by low minimum wage, the implications of our current wage laws are staggering.

Gunshannon’s former employer, a McDonald’s Corporation franchise in Shavertown, Pennsylvania, pays its hourly employees using a “payroll card,” a debit card-like financial product offered by a number of major banks. At the Shavertown McDonald’s, employees do not have the option to receive payment through paper check or direct deposit, a violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Act. This may seem like a relatively minor distinction, but for the employees who cannot transfer their pay into their own bank accounts and who have to pay exorbitant ATM withdrawal fees, transaction fees, and even inactivity fees on their hard-earned money, the costs associated with the payroll card can eat away at paychecks to the point where employees are being paid less than minimum wage.

Representing Gunshannon and other employees in a class-action suit, attorney Mike Cefalo said that “the debit card is a drain on the pay they earn.”

And the pay they earn is already much too low. According to the Economic Policy Institute, women make up 56 percent of minimum wage workers — but even when those women work full time, their income remains below the federal poverty line. Last summer, AAUW joined with 40 other organizations to urge members of Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to a fair, livable standard. To that end, AAUW has endorsed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. This bill would increase the minimum wage incrementally over the next three years from the current  $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.

For women, families, and the U.S. economy, the benefits of raising the minimum wage are real. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase incomes for about 30 million workers, 16.8 million of them women. The Fair Minimum Wage Act is also good news for the economy — with higher wages, gross domestic product is expected to grow by about $32.6 billion by July 2015, which will bring even more women and families out of poverty.

“I need to receive all the money I earn,” Natalie Gunshannon told reporters after filing suit against her former employer. “I can’t afford to lose even a few dollars per paycheck. I just think people should be paid fairly and not have to pay fees to get their wages.”

AAUW believes that everyone deserves fair pay, and we hope that the Fair Minimum Wage Act will pass and bring us one step closer to an equitable system. Stand with us and ask your representatives in Congress to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Cate Domino.

Blog   |   Advocacy   |   July 09, 2013
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7 Tips for Unpaid Interns

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Not only are three out of four unpaid interns likely to be women, but these women have a poorer chance of getting a job than an intern who is paid. Read more »

Blog   |   Career and Workplace   |   2 Comments   |   June 21, 2013
Miss Utah in a gown at the Miss USA pageant

Leave Miss Utah Alone

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On Sunday evening, an unexpected topic came up during the Miss USA beauty pageant: equal pay.

Here’s what happened. During the interview portion of the annual pageant, Miss Utah Marissa Powell was given the following prompt: “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

It was the kind of question we might ask one of our own researchers or policy analysts at AAUW and expect them to pause a moment before answering. But Powell bravely jumped in to deliver a cringe-inducing moment that has seized the internet:

I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are … continuing to try to strive to [very long pause] figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are, um, seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create educate better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.

Reactions online were unsurprisingly harsh. The blog Deadspin called her response “insanely idiotic” while tweets stacked up with words like “dumb,” “incoherent,” and “moron.”

But misogyny, cruelty, and schadenfreude on the Internet aren’t really news. What’s also decidedly not news is that a young woman faced with a question regarding breadwinners, equal pay, and cultural values on national television couldn’t come up with much of an answer in under 30 seconds.

What is newsworthy is that the Miss USA pageant included a question about equal pay! This was a moment for moms, dads, and kids watching at home to hear about an issue that probably affects their lives.

But no one heard much about equal pay. Instead, a whole lot of people are jumping on Miss Utah for being unable to sound like Lisa Maatz when discussing the pay gap.

So we’d like to give Miss Utah a break. And we’d also like to take a stab at answering the question.

First, let’s give her some credit for pointing (however vaguely) to education, which absolutely plays a role in the gender pay gap — though not in the way you might think. The pay gap between women and men who have less than a high school diploma sits at 20 percent. That number actually gets worse as women receive more education, widening to 28 percent at the professional degree level. It’s only when women earn doctoral degrees that the wage gap shrinks again, with women earning 80 percent of their male peers’ salaries.

Graph comparing men's and women's salaries by education level

This is the point in the conversation when equal pay haters start talking about choice, which also plays a role in the wage gap. So for their sake, let’s look at an apples-to-apples comparison.

One year out of college (once we’ve ruled out the main paycheck discrepancy offenders), women still take home almost 7 percent less than men who work in similar jobs and circumstances. In other words, a sizable chunk of the wage gap cannot be explained by education, industry, hours worked, or any other measurable factor.

So women in the workforce take home less money than men, period. But what does that say about our society?

On the Today show, Miss Utah was given a second chance to answer the question.

“This is not OK,’’ she said. “It needs to be equal pay for equal work. It’s hard enough already to earn a living, and it shouldn’t be harder just because you’re a woman.”

Unfortunately, it is harder for women to earn a living. And our society is partially to blame for this. We’re still married to outdated gender roles. That’s why pundits panic when they learn that female breadwinners are on the rise. That’s why beauty pageants like Miss USA will continue to objectify women, basing their value on their bikini bods. So let’s leave Powell alone for a moment because the problem is much bigger than her.

But there’s hope when an outdated beauty pageant asks a question about equal pay. We are starting to pay closer attention to women’s issues — and that says good things about society.

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Salary Negotiation Could Have Made a Difference

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Anastasia Engebretson accepted the salary offered to her in her first job out of college. She didn’t know she had the option to negotiate.

A young woman smilingShe found when she arrived for work as a technician that almost all of the new hires were in the same boat except for a few men with less education and relevant experience. These men had negotiated. As one of them told her flat out after a couple of months on the job, “I’m probably getting paid more than you are.”

“I have a bachelor’s degree in physics,” Engebretson said. “This guy who hadn’t gone to college and couldn’t do mental math was getting paid more.”

She learned later, when trying to save up her vacation time to visit her boyfriend, that these men also accumulated vacation time at a faster rate than she did.

Once word of the pay disparity spread, two of her co-workers tried to get the pay they deserved. Engebretson didn’t even try. At that point, she knew she didn’t want to work there anymore because she was being sexually harassed.

“I ended up hating that job because I got sexually harassed every day,” she said. “It was a wear-really-ugly-clothes-on-purpose kind of job.”

She said that one of the teachers at training for the job basically stalked her, as she learned when he made a comment about how the elevator was slow at her apartment building. When Engebretson told her supervisor, her supervisor said that she didn’t want to get labeled as a flag-raiser. Engebretson also wasn’t prepared for how differently she would be treated as a woman in a largely male environment.

“As soon as I got in there, it was like ‘sweetie, cupcake, doll. Oh, you’re not going to have to work because you’re a girl,’” she said. “They tried to put me in positions where I was just going to sit in the office.”

Engebretson suffered through the sexual harassment and unfair pay for a year and a half before she quit. Now, she’s in graduate school at Oregon State University working on a degree in mechanical engineering. She learned about AAUW and the WAGE Project’s $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops through a bulletin board at her school. The workshop information proved to be invaluable.

“Really think about the base salary they offer you because it’s going to affect retirement,” she said. “There’s nobody there who tells you what’s OK to argue or if it’s even OK to do so.”

Engebretson said she emerged from the workshop much more confident on how to negotiate her salary.

“I’m a really nice person and pretty articulate most of the time, but I sometimes struggle with developing my professional persona,” she said. “I know that’s especially important for a girl in science or math. I felt what she told us about what kind of language to use when negotiating was really key.”

StartSmartHeader_2AAUW strongly supports teaching women salary negotiation skills in an effort to close the wage gap. $tart $mart offers several opportunities to get involved: Find a site near you, “like” the program on Facebook, recruit a new campus site, or become a facilitator.

However, salary negotiation alone can’t close the wage gap. AAUW continues to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a needed update to the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act. In the meantime, President Barack Obama can address part of the Paycheck Fairness Act through an executive order that would ban federal contractors from firing or otherwise retaliating against workers who share salary information and wage practices.

“There are a lot of positive things I learned from the negative experience,” Engebretson said. “But I think it’d be nice if people didn’t have to go through the same ins and outs that I did.”

Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, stories like Engebretson’s are still far too prevalent. Let’s let the anniversary serve not as a cause for celebration but a call for action to make equal pay for equal work a reality.

This is the 11th post in AAUW’s series about women’s struggles to receive fair pay. Learn more about the pay gap and join AAUW in the fight for fair pay.

Blog   |   Economic Justice   |   1 Comments   |   June 10, 2013
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“Strength of Character” Needed to Survive Pay Discrimination Lawsuit

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Author’s note: The following blog post tells a story of gender pay inequity — a situation we hear about too often at AAUW. I have presented the story as told to me by the information technology professional and have not independently verified the facts of the case.

A person's hands type at a computer

Image by Thinkstock

A New York IT professional’s fight for fair pay began five years ago when she got a bad mark on her performance appraisal — shortly after her supervisor made a sexually inappropriate advance.

She had worked for the company for about 25 years when her review noted that she had interpersonal skill problems because she did not get along with difficult people. The IT professional, who asked that her name not be used, said that she didn’t understand the criticism.

“It just surfaced. It didn’t make sense,” she said. “If you’re going to say that about me, I want details.”

So she pursued it — through human resources, then a workplace advisory council, and the diversity manager — and found the details to be conflicting and elusive. The diversity manager gave her — the only woman in her part of the company — five minutes and didn’t investigate.

“The more I pursued it, the nastier they got,” she said.

During her quest for answers, she realized something else astounding: She hadn’t been promoted in more than 20 years, and her raises weren’t that great. Her male counterparts made significantly more than she did.

“I wasn’t really paying attention,” she said. “Women get busy with our lives, with our kids. We’re juggling a lot. I had two kids and a sick father. I just lost track, not realizing how bad it had got and trusting the company that I worked for to do the right thing.”

As she moved forward with her complaint, the supervisor who had been sexually harassing her came to her office and tried to bully her for complaining. She said he grabbed the phone out of her hand and slammed it down when she tried to call for help. She managed to escape her office and go to human resources, but even with a witness who heard everything, HR didn’t investigate, she said. They just moved her under another male supervisor — her department had zero female supervisors out of seven — and asked her old supervisor to take a workplace policy class, she said.

As all of this was happening, the IT professional learned that a recently hired man with far less experience and documented poor work performance had been promoted over her.

After two years of internal grievances and still no answers, she filed a complaint of sexual discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“The infrastructure for protecting women is really lacking,” she said. “The EEOC is so backlogged. You have to ask yourself: Why is the EEOC so backlogged? It is cheaper to pay for the silence of the few women who figure it out and sweep them under the rug as if nothing happened rather than pay all women equal compensation for the same work done by their male counterparts. Businesses are not held accountable, so you have a large volume of complaints going to the EEOC.”

Her EEOC complaint became a lawsuit after she felt she was left with no choice and had to step up. During the deposition, the attorneys for her employer “tried every dirty trick in the book to try to intimidate me,” she recalled, her voice breaking. She said they used information that violated her HIPAA rights.

“They tried to make me sound crazy, and when you go through this you really start to believe it,” she said. “You need strength of character and a really good support system to make it through with some semblance of sanity. I cried a lot, and then I cried some more.”

Her complaint ultimately ended when she accepted a judgment for monetary damages, which she said she did because she didn’t want her story to be swept under the rug with a nondisclosure agreement.

Since then, there have been some positive changes for women at her company but not enough to ensure that what happened to her will never happen to any other woman there, she said. She is still being paid significantly less than her male co-workers and said she shares her story with anyone in a position to help her make a difference for women working at her company.

“When you go through the process, you realize how many rights you really, really don’t have,” she said.

This is the 10th post in AAUW’s series about women’s struggles to receive fair pay. Learn more about the pay gap and join AAUW in the fight for fair pay.

Blog   |   Economic Justice   |   1 Comments   |   June 05, 2013