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EDITORIAL: Equality makes economic sense

York Dispatch
Women's rights activist Lilly Ledbetter speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, where she joined President Barack Obama, during a ceremony marking the 7th anniversary of the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

If we are to close the gender pay gap once and for all, we must attack it on social and psychological — as well as legal —fronts.

Equal pay for equal work only makes good economic sense. Mothers who are economically secure buy things for their families — just like men who are economically secure.

The notion that somehow men with children are more productive because they have a family to support but women with children are unreliable because they have children to care for is outdated and just plain wrong.

What is at issue is how family chores and child care are distributed at home between mothers and fathers. And, of course, in many cases a mother is the head of the household, supporting and caring for her children. This doesn’t make her less reliable, it most likely makes her more reliable because her children’s survival rests squarely on her shoulders.

You don’t find many motivators more effective than that.

Census data released in 2014 shows the median salary of working men over the age of 25 is more than $14,000 higher than that of women in York County, a difference that's slightly higher than the state (less than $13,000) and national (more than $11,000) averages.

Male-female wage gap closing in York, but higher than national average

Nationally, the median salary gap increases from about $8,500 in men and women with less than a high school diploma to nearly $26,500 for those with a graduate or professional degree.

Against this backdrop, President Barack Obama announced Jan. 28 a new rule intended to address this blatant pay disparity.

The rule, which would apply to companies that have 100 or more employees, will require employers to include salary information on a form listing gender age and job groups already submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Obama made the official announcement at an event marking the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation he signed as president. The Lilly Ledbetter Act loosened the statute of limitations under which workers can sue employers for pay discrimination based on characteristics such as gender, race, age or disability.

The most formal way for a woman to typically address unfair wage practices is to bring the matter to court, where the burden of proof falls on the female employee to prove gender discrimination, which is nearly impossible due to nondisclosure agreements that allow employers to refuse to provide employee salary information.

Obama’s new rules are crucial because they create a national priority and set of values that must be adhered to by employers and managers.

However, women must also advocate for themselves in the workplace. Studies show that they would if it were an acceptable approach to take. That’s because a psychology persists that women who advocate for themselves are overbearing or pushy, while men who do the same are go-getters.

So women have been told that they should negotiate in a more feminine and softer way to come across as less threatening. But the onus shouldn’t be on women to negotiate in a less demanding way, it should be on the employer and society at large to accept women as strong and determined employees and negotiators.

When asked, most people would say they are not sexist — and perhaps they really believe this to be true. But certain long-held perceptions can creep into our beliefs and manifest themselves when we interact with others — consciously or unconsciously.

If employers were required to provide salary information and to pledge that they will not engage in practices which directly — or indirectly — promote wage disparity, such actions would go a long way to keep those subconscious biases top of mind for those who really don’t want to engage in sexist practices.

More secure women — who have earned the right to earn a fair wage through their work ethic and experience — will help build a more stable economy. Women contribute in business and they consume in the marketplace, two fundamental processes that are economically advantageous to every society.

And gender aside, that’s good for all.