What Goes Unsaid: The Gender Pay Gap in America

Making up 50.6% of the world’s population, women are statistically the more numerous gender in America, so why are we still being paid less than men? A question that was first asked in the 1920s, then again in the ’70s, and still remains unsolved today. It is no myth that women are being paid less in disregard of their longevity and position in a company. To complexity, the issue further, pays disparity affects women of color and of the higher profession. Through many years of fighting, equal pay for equal work has yet to become a reality, but with reform and advocation, there is a possibility of closing the gender pay gap.

In middle school, I joined a club named “Girls in Government, Leadership, and Service” where I first learned about the gender pay gap. Then, I had no clue how significantly it would someday affect myself and my peers and how much money I would lose to the wage gap. Throughout those three years, we held conferences, visited, and spoke to different advocates who worked in studying the effects of varies solutions which included the Equal Rights Amendment. I followed petitions and the popularity of the topic. From what I learned, I knew that I would want to follow this trend throughout my schooling because the topic would continue to grow in popularity as it was pushed in the current political actions. Because this topic has such a critical impact on a whole gender which includes myself, I wanted to know what efforts are being made to solve this issue, and how close those efforts are to being successful.

More on how I became interested in the gender pay gap

History of Women In the Workforce and the Equal Rights Amendment

1914 was the opening for women to test social standards. The First World War gave women the chance to work in the defense industry, a workplace that was not open to women, when the jobs were vacated by drafted male workers, and then again in 1939, for the Second World War. When the war finished, it was assumed that women would return to their “traditional” professions, and those who continued working in factory jobs endured heavy gender discrimination. Quickly following that, the previously drafted idea of gender equality was put into action.

First drafted by Alice Paul in 1923, a young activist from the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Equal Rights Amendment would declare that “all laws should apply to men and women alike” (Zimmerman). The amendment fell silent given the war which stole the attention of the states. It was not until 1971 when the women’s movement was once again a popular subject and the Equal Rights Amendment was revived, eventually being passed by Congress, and sent to the states for ratification. Facing conservative opposition from the south, the amendment “fell three states short of the required three-quarters”(Murphy). Since this attempt to mandate gender equality, the disparity gap has increased with every passing year and has yet to find a permanent solution.

Where the Pay Gap Stands Now

Want to learn where you stand in the gender pay gap?

Since the gender wage gap was first recognized in the early 1900s, the gap has narrowed due to the individual company and state regulations, yet those regulations can be weak which is why women still experience unequal pay. As more research went into the issue, race and profession were recognized as another part of the modern problem. Considering today’s awareness of gender inequality in America, we see different organizations attempting to address it and to analyze these organizations. The National Committee on Pay Equity works to solve sex- and race-based wage discrimination through state policies. Through the eighties to the early nineties, the committee’s efforts led 20 states to adjust wage policies. These states included Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, and Connecticut, were the pay gaps decreased from 23 to 53 percent. Another group that has been working against sex discrimination is a San Francisco-based group called Equal Rights Advocates. This non-profit was founded two years after the Equal Rights Amendment was passed for state ratification and has since advocated heavily for the ratification of the ERA and young women empowerment. With an office in Downtown Oakland, the East Bay, their focus is directed on the specific district where big business is very prominent. Through constant advocation and recent political urgency, these organizations have made victories both small and large in preventing gender inequality both inside and outside of the workplace. Most significantly, these organizations spread awareness through social media and through the press which pushed for change and reform.

More recently in the fall of 2018, a federal lawsuit against Nike was filed after an explicit violation of the Equal Pay Act. Four women came forward to tell how they had been discriminated against by male workers and superiors socially and in disparity. In the result of the case, wages were raised and dismissing some of the company’s top executives who had turned a blind eye to the discrimination in pay. Nike’s change further influenced other companies such as AT&T and Target to analyze anually salaries more closely.

What Can We Do to Fix It?

Let’s start with how YOU can make a change

As students, it seems like changing a problem so deep-rooted and broad such as this cannot be achieved by oneself. Contrary to popular belief, community work can go a long way. Clubs and activist groups are a form of engaging in both local and national politics. In school, women’s affinity groups allow you to be in a community of students who share a passion for advocation. Students also have more power than one would think, and by being a part of a community who is hungry for change, it can be very much possible.

Moving onto bigger steps

Looking at a solution on a macro level, it is important to understand the roots of the problem to then tackle the entirety of it. When a person applies for a job, it is legal for employers to ask applicants of their salary history. By asking this question, employers can get an idea of what salary to pay the employee which keeps them in an ongoing “cycle of discriminatory pay practices”(Lisa Nagele-Piazza). The Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit this question from being asked in an application or interview. Most recently, it has been supported by Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn who argues that this bill would reflect equal pay for equal work instead of employers setting intentional discrimination. As this bill has strengthened since its proposal in 1997, it is more focused towards sex discrimination and is one of the most viable solutions to the gender pay gap.

Read more on the gender pay gap’s history, current day, and solutions.

More on my resources

Let’s start a conversation. Please feel free to share your own solutions to the gender pay gap or any work that you have done in advocating for change. I hope that you learned something new and will continue to spread the word to people around you.

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  1. April 28, 2019 by Parker Mergelkamp

    It is interesting how companies that are loved by many, such as Nike, have discriminated against their employees including women, yet when buying their products not too many people think about if the the company they are supporting pays everyone equally. I know I don’t. Do you think companies with unequal pay would be less supported by the public if people were more informed about the gender pay gap and knew what companies had unequal pay? I loved your video and webpage, both were very informative!

  2. April 29, 2019 by Kennedy

    Hi Clarisa! I really like your presentation:) This is such a big issue that needs to be addressed and it saddens me that not much has changed through time as demonstrated in the history that you provided. I like how you included the story about the lawsuit against Nike in 2018 as it is a big company that most people know making it such that readers can better understand the issue and its extent. You suggested that as students a good way to get involved is through clubs and activist groups. Are you part of anything like this and if so what do you do?

  3. April 29, 2019 by Rebecca

    Hey Clarisa! Your presentation looks amazing! It’s so cool that you included so much history on the issue and didn’t stop there, but instead went on to describe how it impacts us today and what we can do to become aware and try to help get rid of this gap. Women have been known as the “weaker” gender since the beginning, but it’s clear that while we have made progress, there is still far to go. What do you think is the main reason we haven’t been able to close the gap any more than we have?

  4. April 29, 2019 by Natalie.Bauder

    Great job! Your information and the history you gave was very clear and concise. Each way you displayed your information was interesting and compelling. This is a very important topic to discuss and it is shocking how much it has not changed over the years. I found the Paycheck Fairness Act especially interesting, as it is a newer bill and is a big step in eradicating the pay gap. I did not know this was how the cycle continued and was shocked by it.

  5. April 30, 2019 by Kyong Pak

    Great work, Clarisa! You presented the history of gender pay disparity with clarity and concision. While the progress in pay equity is disappointing, you conclude the presentation spotlighting impactful work being done here in the Bay Area. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a logical step toward change – I hope more states enact such legislation.

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