WA legislators considering legal cover for employers limiting compensation discussions

Photo: Jerry Daykin via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Jerry Daykin via Flickr Creative Commons

Giving employers legal permission to impose more limits on discussing compensation than on talking about the Seahawks or the weather, as Senate Bill 5344 proposes, takes us backwards.

We know the stats – at every age, education level, in nearly every occupation – women are paid less than men, and women of color are paid least of all.

In Washington among people who worked full-time and year-round in 2015, White women brought home 77 cents to a White man’s $1.00; Black women 67 cents; and Latinas just 45 cents.[i] Even among teenagers, males have larger paychecks than females. The gap grows significantly wider among people in their 30s and 40s.

Education – even STEM education – and better negotiating skills alone won’t solve the problem. In Washington, women over age 25 are more likely to have earned a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree than men, yet women with a Bachelor’s degree make just 63% of men’s earnings.[ii] Women also end up saddled with more education debt – along with less ability to repay it.[iii]

A study from the University of California Hastings College of Law found that two thirds of all women scientists and 77% of African American female scientists reported having to provide more evidence of competence than men. A study in University of Washington science classes found that male students ranked men earning Bs as more knowledgeable than women earning As.

The perils of “talking while female” are also well documented. I suspect most women in the room have had the experience of having their idea ignored, only to have a man say the same thing a few minutes later and get credited with a brilliant and original contribution. Assertive women are often judged harshly as undesirably team members, while assertive men are viewed as natural leaders.

A substantial portion of the gender wage gap cannot be explained by job-related factors such as education, experience, or occupation.[iv] Biases – often unconscious –held by firm managers also play a key role, reducing the likelihood that women and all people of color will be hired, assigned to high wage departments, or promoted.

Women typically are offered lower pay than men with identical resumes.[v] One study of 200 managers at Fortune 100 companies found that they tended to assume women employees had more difficulty balancing work and family than men, even though the women themselves reported less conflict. That bias resulted in the managers being less willing to promote women.[vi]

Other studies have found that all other qualifications being equal, motherhood renders women less employable while fatherhood makes men more desirable to employers. And people with “ethnic-sounding” names have a much harder time landing a job interview than people with “white” names with similar resumes.

All this subtle and not so subtle discrimination is compounded by the fact that 60% of private sector workers report their employers prohibit or discourage people from discussing compensation. So most people don’t know when someone else is getting paid more for the same job. Moreover, when workers do discover wage discrimination, most need their job too much to and have too few resources to risk hauling their employer into court. An administrative remedy will make all our anti-discrimination laws more effective.

(Excerpted from testimony to the Washington State Senate Commerce, Labor, and Sports Committee, February 1, 2017)


[i] American Community Survey. “Table B20017B: Median earnings in the past 12 months (in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars) by sex by work experience in the past 12 months for the population 16 years and over with earnings in the past 12 months (Black or African American alone).” 2015.

[ii] American Community Survey, Tables B15002 and B20004, 2015.

[iii] American Association of University Women, “Pay Gap Especially Harmful for Black and Hispanic Women Struggling with Student Debt,” Feb 8, 2016, http://www.aauw.org/2016/02/08/pay-gap-especially-harmful-for-black-and-hispanic-women-struggling-with-student-debt/.

[iv] A Chamberlain. “Demystifying the Gender Wage Gap: Evidence from Glassdoor Salary Data.” Glassdoor. March 2016. https://research-content.glassdoor.com/app/uploads/sites/2/2016/03/Glassdoor-Gender-Pay-Gap-Study.pdf. FD Blau & LM Kahn. “The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as they Can?” Academy of Management Perspectives, 21:1:7, Feb 2007. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/24286161/gender-pay-gap-have-women-gone-as-far-as-they-can. FD Blau and LM Kahn, “The Gender Wage Gap: Extend Trends and Explanations,” Institute for the Study of Labor, 2016, http://ftp.iza.org/dp9656.pdf.

[v] FD Blau & LM Kahn. “The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as they Can?” Academy of Management Perspectives, 21:1:7, Feb 2007. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/24286161/gender-pay-gap-have-women-gone-as-far-as-they-can.

[vi] Hoobler, et al, “Bosses’ Perceptions of Family-Work Conflict and Women’s Promotability: Glass Ceiling Effects,” The Academy of Management Journal, vol. 52, no. 5, October 2009, cited in Strategy-Business, “Gender Inequality: How False Perceptions Affect Promotions,” http://www.strategy-business.com/article/re00069?gko=b8a0d.

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