Blue Man Pink Woman SihouettesIn 1963 Congress passed the Equal Pay Act as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act with the goal of prohibiting discrimination “on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in   such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions…” The amendment was signed into law on June 10 by John F. Kennedy, and this past summer was the 50th anniversary of this ground-breaking law.

Then in January 2009 President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, a law named after a woman who discovered that her employer was paying her less than her male counterparts. Lilly Ledbetter took her discrimination case the entire way to the Supreme Court, and in 2007 the court ruled that claims like hers had to be filed within 180 days of an employer’s decision to pay a worker less—even if the worker didn’t learn about the unfair pay until much later. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act ensures that workers can effectively challenge unequal pay. Now unfair pay complaints can be filed within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck—and that 180 days resets after each paycheck is issued.

Dollar bills by raceDespite these laws, however, a gap in wages is still present between men and women in this country.  This illustration by Emily Nemens for shows the gender pay gap in startling relief. For every dollar earned by a white man in America, a white woman earns (on average) $.77, a black woman earns $.69, and a Latina woman earns $.57. Women make up more than half the workforce, and even after factoring in the kind of work people do, education and experience, there remains a significant difference in pay between men and women although the gap has decreased over recent years. Women are still struggling to earn as much as their male counterparts do, and more questions about equality are raised when race is factored into the equation.

This inequality is not an issue that only affects women. From a global perspective, companies that discriminate based on gender are only hurting themselves. In 2012 Credit Suisse studied the performance of 2,360 companies around the world and found that, on average, the companies with women holding positions in upper management out-performed companies that did not. The research also showed that with one or more women occupying positions on the board, their returns on equity were higher and they experienced better than average growth.

With many advances in technology, software and business practices, it seems logical to expect advances in company policy to keep pace. However, as research shows, many company policies remain archaic regarding fair wages for female employees. As business looks toward a global future, let’s hope that gender equality moves to the forefront of these fair business practices.


“Your Right to Equal Pay: Understand the Basics” Retrieved 30 Aug. 2013
“The Equal Pay Act of 1963” Retrieved 30 Aug. 2013
Infographic by Emily Nemens from LeanIn.Org
“Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance” Retrieved 30 Aug. 2013


© Women’s Empowerment Initiative.  All Rights Reserved.