Guest Post Written By Lori Andrus, Partner at Andrus Anderson LLP. Lori is a leader in the fight for equal pay, spearheading the Farmers Insurance Equal Pay Class Action settlement.
C orporate America must be doing a lot of soul searching right about now. With so many brave women coming forward to tell their stories about sexual misconduct in the workplace, CEOs and HR Managers across the land are undoubtedly reviewing their own personnel files to be sure that they are properly handling complaints, old and new. A reckoning is underway, and those who have previously turned a blind eye to the slights (minor and major) that women in the workforce face every day, are re-thinking their own behavior.
While they’re at it, I hope they will also consider how America’s corporate culture permits the gender wage gap to persist. In my view, sexual harassment and unequal pay are part of the same fundamental problem: the undervaluing of women in the workplace.
The suppression of women’s wages is merely symptomatic of the overall suppression of women’s power at work. One way to suppress a woman’s power is to remind her that she is the object of desire. That her professional value is linked to her physical attributes. Another way to suppress a woman’s power is to slowly, gradually steal her wealth and limit her financial independence.
Here’s how bad the situation is: the wage gap exists in every single industry from the lowest paid workers to the highest. Even in my own profession, the law, women make only 90 cents on the dollar despite the fact that women have been graduating from law school in near equal numbers to men for about 30 years! Even though we’ve proven ourselves over and over again (for the last eight years, women have earned more graduate degrees than men), overall women still only earn 80 cents on the dollar when compared to men. The plight of working women of color is even starker: The average African-American woman makes only 60 cents to the average man’s dollar, and the average Latina makes only 55 cents. Things don’t seem to be improving: although the gap was (slowly) getting narrower over time, in the last decade, we’ve plateaued.
What can explain this entrenched gap except the notion that women’s work is simply not worth as much as men’s? Consider a recent study’s depressing conclusion: as women take over traditionally male-dominated industries, pay drops for everyone. That smarts, doesn’t it?
Back to the litany of #MeToo complaints we’re witnessing: like the wage theft women suffer across the board, we’re finally acknowledging that harassment is pervasive, too. Granted, the sexual abuse that women face comes in all shades of grey. Just like unequal pay, the resulting harm ranges from a little to absurd amounts, depending on the circumstances.
The fact of the matter is that the omnipresence of sexual harassment reflects an accepted corporate culture in which women are undervalued and underpaid. And, companies that allow sexual harassment to go unpunished effectively condone and perpetuate that behavior, reinforcing the idea that women don’t really “belong” in the workforce, and allowing the worst offenders to maintain the idea that “they’d be better off at home.” We must change this culture once and for all.
The women who are speaking up to stop inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace are seizing their power. They are demanding to be seen as equals in the workplace.
As more and more women utilize their power to change things for the better – for themselves and for the working women who will come behind them – I hope that they will also demand equal pay for equal work.
We have to fight for change, together. It’s our time.