In advance of Labor Day, I wanted to recognize the good work that is taking place in my home state of California in regards to equal pay. An important bill, SB 358, making its way through the Legislature would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about pay differences at work. It would also set rules surrounding employees' ability to recover wages based on gender discrimination.
While both the state of California and the federal government have equal pay laws prohibiting gender discrimination, California is now poised to have the strongest equal pay law in the country. If signed into law, this legislation would strengthen the ability for women to legally challenge pay inequity.
Patricia Arquette called attention to this very important issue at the Academy Awards and it is mind boggling to me that in 2015 we are having this conversation and public policy debate. But the reality is that the struggle for pay equality has taken decades and we are still fighting to ensure that women receive "equal pay for equal work".
The statistics are sobering: in 2013, women working full-time in California earned a median of $0.84 per dollar earned by men, African American women earned $0.64 per dollar and Latina women earned $0.44 per dollar. According to the White House, full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn. This means that women have to work approximately 60 extra days, or about three months, to earn what men did by the end of the previous year.
This wage disparity is coupled with the fact that more and more women are entering the workforce and many families depend on multiple paychecks to make ends meet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 the share of married-couple families with children where both parents worked was 60.2 percent.
Unfortunately, equal-pay proposals in other states and at the federal level are often split along party lines. Interestingly, the equal pay bill in California has received bipartisan support. Republican Assembly minority leader Kristin Olsen was recently quoted as saying "as working moms and women who have competed in male-dominated industries, California Republican women stand behind the importance of paying women and men equally for equal work."
The rest of the nation and federal government should take a page from California's playbook. If signed into law, which is likely given Governor Jerry Brown's support for the bill, California's policy will be an important model for other states to follow. California is often a leader in innovation and our leaders tend to use progressive problem-solving strategies. I'm grateful that the leaders in my state are taking a stand to address the persistent and long-standing wage gap.
Real change starts with public policies like SB 358, but in order for it to be meaningful change there needs to be a culture shift. Attitudes need to change - women should not have to take a back seat when it comes to pay or be afraid of speaking up about pay differences. And employers must commit to embracing this new way of thinking and doing business. I'm confident that we can close the gap on gender wage inequality. In order to do that though, we need the support of men and women and Republicans and Democrats alike. This is not a gender issue or partisan issue this is a moral, human rights issue.
Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. Dr. Ledbetter was recently awarded a grant from Pepperdine University to start the Center for Women in Leadership.