Popular mythology has it that women don't really understand numbers as well as men. That shopworn notion from the 19th century is still harming girls from elementary school on up -- female students drop out of the science, math and tech pipeline around the time they hit junior high.
But there's one number women understand very well -- the gender pay gap. At 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, the needle hasn't moved in over a decade.
Pay Equity Day -- the day every year when women catch up with what men earned by the previous December 31 -- is April 12. Never mind that paying women less than men for substantially the same work has been illegal since the 1960s.
One big reason the pay gap is so stubborn is that women can't find out what they're making compared to the guys alongside them. Many employers prohibit talking about pay with co-workers, and god forbid a company should publish its statistics on pay, gender and job category.
In 2014, President Obama took a small step for womankind when he issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Labor to "develop a compensation data collection proposal" for federal contractors. That proposed mechanism was announced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in February of this year.
In plain English, it will require contractors add employee wages to the long-existing reporting requirements on race, gender, and job categories. (The info still won't be public, but at least those charged with enforcing the law will have it.) After all, federal contractors are benefiting from our tax dollars, and we deserve to know they're being fair to employees. It's a simple matter of transparency on the part of those doing business with the government, not to mention government accountability to taxpayers.
While they may not be too hot on the transparency part, Republicans have been wailing and gnashing their teeth about government accountability since government was invented. Now that they have a chance to get a small measure of it with this new rule, they don't want it after all.
The ink wasn't dry on the proposal before Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) fired off a bill to derail it. His "EEOC Reform Act" demands that the entire backlog of pay discrimination cases be cleared before any more data can be collected from offending companies. Ironically, the bill also contains an outright admission that the agency is understaffed and underfunded.
If Republicans really cared about the EEOC's "mission not accomplished" record due to budget starvation, it would increase funding for investigation and prosecution of giant corporations getting fat off our tax dollars -- while women working for them still slave away for 79 cents on the dollar.
Happy Pay (In)equity Day.