Reporting on the Pay Gap

by February 22, 2016
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Following a proposal from President Obama in January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could start collecting pay data from companies with 100 employees or more as early as 2017. The proposal, which doesn’t require Congressional approval, would require employers with at least 100 workers to submit data about how they pay workers across gender, race and ethnic lines. This move could help the commission evaluate discrimination complaints, investigate pay inequality and encourage employers to pay people equally through transparency.

Here are some places you can get started in reporting on the pay disparity between men and women workers.

Defining the Pay Gap

One good place to get data on income disparity is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But it’s important to understand what data you’re looking at when reporting on the pay gap.

The adage that a woman earns 77 cents to every dollar a man earns is not comparing pay for comparable work. Rather, this data compares median earnings for men and women, which analysts calculate two different ways: salaried (called weekly earnings) and hourly.

The Pew Research Center published a gender pay gap report in 2013 based on 2012 BLS data. The Pew report examined median hourly earnings, reporting that women earn 84 cents to every dollar a man earns. And because woman work more part-time jobs than men, the Pew report includes these part time workers in their analysis.

The American Association of University Women, a nonprofit organization researching women’s issues and pushing policy found, in 2014, the national median of annual earnings for women working full time and year-round was $39,621 compared to $50,083 for men. AAUW’s analysis reflected “weekly earnings” of full-time women compared to full-time men. The AAUW parsed 2014 pay gap data by state and congressional district.

Data shows that pay disparity affects women of color even more, at least according to a 2012 report from the National Women’s Law Center. The center broke down the pay disparity in weekly earnings between black and Latina women by state, showing that women of color typically earn even less than white women. This report looked at the median earnings of individuals who worked full time, year-round.

Yet these discrepancies aren’t completely responsible for the pay discrimination the EEOC seeks to remedy.

The disparities also include differences in compensation for work traditionally done by women such as teaching, nursing and childcare compared to work traditionally done by men as well as the choice to leave the workplace to care for children or loved ones, or to take lower-paying, more flexible jobs.

A recent Freakonomics podcast interview with Harvard economist Claudia Goldin explored these factors in depth.

While the new EEOC regulation could help reduce pay discrimination, broader societal factors in the pay gap remain.

Opposition to New Regulation to Address Discrimination

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not opposed to current equal pay measures (it’s already illegal to pay a woman less than a man for the same work), the organization vocally opposed the president’s January announcement, citing unnecessary burdens to employers who would be required to collect and report compensation information.

Reporters should reach out to the EEOC to understand what reporting is required and to local companies to understand any perceived burden (or costs) to their company of increased wage reporting. 

Laws and Legislation

For background about pay disparity between genders, reporters can first become familiar with the existing pay equality laws:

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women when they perform similar duties at the same workplace.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on color, race, sex, religion and national origin in workplaces with more than 15 employees and is broadened to include hiring and firing, promotions and overall compensation, not just wages.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was enacted in January 2009, making it easier to file gender pay discrimination with the EEOC. The Act resets the 180-day statute of limitations to every discriminatory paycheck after its namesake, Lilly Ledbetter, discovered years of gender pay disparity because her former employer did not allow employees to discuss their wages.

Additionally, look into additional legislative proposals addressing pay discrimination at the state level; are officials shepherding legislation to close the gender wage gap in your state?

For instance, a California law passed last fall went into effect on Jan. 1. California Fair Pay Act restricts employers from paying workers less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work,” even if their titles are different or they work at different sites. The law also prohibits retaliation against employees who discuss wages with coworkers.