Currency in your Pocket Counts Most

It's headline news that there will finally be a woman on American paper currency.

Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and women's suffrage supporter, will be the new face of the in the $20 bill, replacing President Andrew Jackson. The change comes almost 100 years after women were guaranteed the right to vote by the 19th Amendment in 1920.

But before cheering this belated recognition of the historic importance of women, we might want to question why women still earn far less than men -- an estimated 13 cents on the dollar less -- for the same work!

The National Women's Law Center calculates that the "paycheck gender gap" costs women nearly $500,000 over their lifetime earnings -- not to mention the opportunities for savings and investing that go with higher salaries.

Here are five things women should know about their paychecks.
--Unequal pay is illegal ... but hard to prove. The Equal Pay Act, passed in 1963, as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, makes it illegal to discriminate in pay on the basis of gender. Yet, as current statistics show, that hasn't made paychecks equal! The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would add procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act, has been lingering in Congress for 19 years. Kristen Prinz, a Chicago employment law attorney, says the only way to bring women's salaries into line is for women to speak to each other -- and to speak up!

--Retaliation for questioning pay disparities is illegal. That is, if at least two employees ask the question. Under current law, individuals who question their own pay levels are not protected. (That would change if the Paycheck Fairness Act is passed.) But if at least two or more employees raise the issue with management, the National Labor Relations Act protects against retaliation.

Still, many employees fear they will not get promotions or bonuses if they speak up. Prinz says the answer is to get together as a group to question pay practices. She notes that it's easier to prove damages in a retaliation lawsuit than in an individual complaint for pay discrimination.

--The tide is turning against pay discrimination. Companies ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Amazon, Intel and Apple have been forced to address this issue. In the case of Amazon, the SEC ruled that shareholders had a right to post an equal pay resolution on the ballot for the annual meeting. In fact, unequal pay for women is likely to become an issue in this year's presidential campaign.

--Unequal pay is a corporate risk management issue. Numerous recent studies have shown that corporations that utilize diversity of talent perform better. But ignoring pay disparities is also a large potential liability. Websites like publicize pay and promotion complaints, potentially making it difficult for companies with these issues to attract top talent. Most public companies have "hotlines" through which you can make an anonymous report directly to the board of directors. They, too, need to recognize unequal pay as a corporate risk issue.

--Pay should be based on performance, not credentials. Executive recruiter Virginia Clarke, president of Talent Optimization Partners in Chicago, advises women how to negotiate from strength and to recognize their own value to the organization. She also advises women in a company to openly advocate for each other. As more women reach the executive suite and serve on corporate boards, they can impact pay discrepancies.

Why have women in the workforce suffered the consistent indignity of receiving lower paychecks, while other bias issues have been publicly confronted, and to a great extent resolved? Some theorize that women are more protective of their paychecks, and more reluctant to rock the boat. But now the tide seems to be turning. This is the time to be brave. And that's The Savage Truth.