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Equal Pay Is Only Part of the Picture

The latest Gender Wage Gap report indicates that it would take until 2059 for women to reach parity with men if the ratio continues at the same rate it has from 1959 to 2015.

The 2016 Report on the Status of Women by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that the median full-time earnings for women was $41,554 compared to $51,640 for men. Not surprisingly, earnings remained steady or improved for women across each race and ethnic group except for black women. Between 2015 and 2016, white women working full-time experienced an increase of nearly 5 percent (4.9 percent), while Asian and Hispanic women saw increases of 2.8 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively. Black women on the other hand had a decrease in earnings of 1.3 percent over the same period.

A recent example of the pay gap between women was shared by actress Octavia Spencer, who is black, during a panel discussion aptly titled “Women Breaking Barriers” in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Spencer told the audience how fellow actress and co-star Jessica Chastain, who is white, helped her negotiate a higher salary for The Shape of Water.

It all started after the two actresses had a conversation about unequal pay. Spencer told Chastain that women of color make substantially less than their white female counterparts. (This is important because discussing salary is still largely a taboo subject regardless of the industry). Chastain, unaware of this disparity, wanted to do something about it. She told Spencer that she would negotiate their salaries for the movie and promised they would be compensated equally.

And negotiate she did. After all was said and done, both actresses reportedly ended up making five times more than what they asked for initially.

When asked, Chastain said, “she (Spencer) had been underpaid for so long. When I discovered that, I realized that I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female costars.”

In fact, not only men but also women, as seen in Chastain’s case, can do this. During Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards, she left the audience with two words: “inclusion rider.” This means that A-list talent (male and female) can ask for and demand diversity in future projects by including it in their contracts. Although McDormand only recently learned about this option, it apparently has been around for some time. Imagine if inclusion riders existed in all professions.


Equal Pay Pledge

The Equal Pay Pledge enacted by former President Barack Obama was an attempt to advance equal pay in the U.S. More than 100 companies signed on to embrace equal pay policies and recognize that doing good is also good for business.

The pledge included commitments to:


» Play a critical role in closing the national pay gap.


» Conduct an annual company-wide gender pay analysis.


» Review hiring and promotion processes to reduce unconscious bias and barriers.


» Include equal pay efforts into other equity initiatives.


» Identify and promote best practices to ensure fundamental fairness for all workers.


Salesforce is a company that exemplifies that commitment. Instead of just giving lip service to wanting equal pay for women, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, not only conducted extensive examinations of employee salaries but also went a step further and has spent nearly $6 million to close the gap. When asked, Benioff said, “My job is to make sure that women are treated 100 percent equally at Salesforce in pay, opportunity and advancement.” There should be more men like him in leadership.

Taking the conversation another step further, Faith Read Xenos, founding partner at Singer Xenos Schechter Sosler Wealth Management, believes there is still an important aspect of the recent movements that we have yet to deal with fully. That aspect is women taking greater control of their personal finances in order to become more engaged in their investment portfolios.

Xenos said, “While #MeToo has been an incredibly successful movement and one long overdue, it remains incomplete without also advocating for women to take control of their financial independence through smart and strategic investing. After all, even if we solve the gender pay gap or the other issues women today face, they will never be fully secure without a long-term strategy for building wealth.”

Although we have come a long way, there is still quite a distance to go. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We cannot ask others to do for us what we are not willing to do for ourselves. Now is the time.


Jocelyn Wright is the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected] .

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