Pay Equity: Why So Slow?

Malaika Horne, PhD

The pay gap is one of the most vexing issues, particularly for women and yet it seems to continue to remain in the dark. So, much needed light needs to be shed with more clarity to the public discourse on this critical issue.

For example, it’s important to know:

  • Equal Pay does not exist anywhere in the world.
  • Gender bias is universal.
  • The U.S. ranks 65th in the world (among 142 countries) in unequal pay.
  • Scandinavian countries and some Caribbean countries rank highest.
  • Middle Eastern countries are the lowest.
  • There is wage discrimination against women of all ethnicities.
  • There is a pay gap in virtually every occupation.
  • There is also wage discrimination against men of color.

Hence in measuring the gap, White males are the yardstick for the point of reference. So why so slow? Missouri State Senator Karla May’s Bill 682 sought to address this issue and there are apparently other bills winding its way through. Yet the political will is lacking. Some say it’ll take hundreds of years to reach parity with this slow pace. To speed it up, we need more women in elected positions, although progress is being made. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said: “When we have a Congress that looks more like the country it represents, we’ll get policies that best serve everyone in the country—including paycheck fairness for American women,”

The selection of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice-
presidential candidate is a good sign.

Politics aside, what else is holding back women’s pay?

  1. The glass ceiling contributes to the problem.  In other words, women are doing everything right in the workplace yet still not getting ahead.  This is what we also call “good olé’ discrimination.”
  2. The mommy track contributes as mothers having to take off due to childcare and later fall behind once they reenter the  labor force
  3. The “Sandwich generation” where women shoulder the responsibility of childcare and taking care of parents and other older relatives.  
  4. Work-life balance is another extra weight for women who have to do a “double shift” because others in the family, particularly the husband, do not carry their fair share of the load.  Women do more than 80% of domestic labor.
  5. In corporations too many women don’t get invited to the leadership table.  Only 5.2 percent of women have Fortune 500 CEO C-suite roles and that has been the case since time immemorial.
  6. Some contend that women don’t speak up enough or not leaning in enough, as Sheryl Sandberg queried in her book, Lean In or Linda Babcock blatantly said in her book titled, Women Don’t Ask.  Some say women lack sufficient negotiating skills.  But as you can see there is a pattern of blaming the victim.  I say men don’t ask.  They have the good olé’ boy network, mentoring and the fast track.  It’s called “White male privilege.”
  7. Of the 500 occupations in the U.S., women are concentrated in only 22, such as administrative assistant, childcare, nursing, social work and teachers, which typically pay less.  Additionally, studies show that women are steered into occupations that pay lower salaries or sex-segregation (a gender ghettoization) in the workplace. 

Other more positive factors to note include women surpassing men in college graduations which might help in the future to pull up wages. Not only that, women are increasing in the labor force. And they are 60 percent of breadwinners & co-breadwinners, so. we’re all dependent (more or less) on women’s wages. Could this convince those who are dragging their feet or ignoring the problem to get on board? Only time will tell.

Equal Pay Day was Tuesday, March 31, 2020. This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Last year it was April 2, 2019. So, it shows a slow narrowing gap, like molasses going up-hill in January.

African American, Latinx and indigenous women have the largest wage gaps African American women make 64 cents, Latinas 57 cents and indigenous even lower, in comparison to a White man’s dollar. White women make 78 cents. And some may be surprised to learn that Asian American women make the most, 87 cents. But bear in mind that Asian American women are only about three percent of the U.S. population. Missouri generally mirrors these national figures.

Addressing the pay goes back to 1963 during the Kennedy Administration which by law abolished wage discrimination based on sex. On Jan. 29, 2009, President Obama’s first executive action was The Lilly Ledbetter Act to address the lack of transparency in divulging wages of men and women. The Pay Check Fairness Act failed in 2014 due to the intransigence of conservatives. Each time, laws are attempting to address de facto discrimination and close loopholes.

In closing, the ramifications of refusing to deal with this most critical issue is huge, For example, all women lose, including retirees with pension reductions. To boot as women age, the wage gap widens. But all of us lose when more than half the population is denied fair wage compensation,

So, it’s high time to disrupt, organize and put more aggressive pressure on institutionalized gender bias in order to close the wage gap. The time is now,

Said Lilly Ledbetter: “We sought justice because equal pay for equal work is an American value. That fight took me ten years. It took me all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Malaika Horne

Malaika Horne, PhD

Malaika Horne is founding director of the Executive Leadership Consortium – College of Business Administration at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Previously she served as a professor at Webster University – School of Communications and Journalism. Before that, she was managing director of Narcotics Service Council. She is also a journalist and academic writer.

She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from UMSL, a master’s degree in Urban Affairs from St. Louis University; a doctorate in public policy studies from St. Louis University and a post-doctorate in psychiatric epidemiology and bio-statistics from Washington University School of Medicine – Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Horne is Curator Emeritus of the University of Missouri System, serving as president in 1997. She has served in many other board capacities, including founding vice chair of ARCHS, co-chair of its Sustainable Neighborhoods, the Urban League Guild, and Friends of KWMU Board, the Scholarship Foundation and Coro Leadership Center of St. Louis. She currently serves on the board of Better Family Life, STL Village, Saint Louis Art Museum and Habitat for Humanity as well as a member of Ready Readers, a program that promotes reading to underserved children.

She is married and lives in St Louis City with her husband, Prince A. Wells, III, music professor at SIUE. Her hobbies are volunteerism, reading, art, music, fashion, interior design, health and fitness and international travel. She’s also working to gain a proficiency in Spanish.

Malaika Horne