Equal job opportunities will lead to equal pay for women

Equal jobs are the real cause of the gender and minority pay gaps, and it’s time that both sides focus on improving on those opportunities.

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Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2022.

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recently announced steps to close the gender and racial wage gap. This was largely lost in the news, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and COVID-19 continue to get the headlines. Yet it’s very important to families around the country.

The announcement came on Mar. 15, which was Equal Pay Day, a day dedicated to drawing attention to gender-based pay disparities.

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Equal pay is something Harris campaigned on in her own presidential campaign back in 2019, and an issue she hasn’t given up on. In 2019, she repeatedly said women made 80 cents for every dollar made by a man for the same work.

Now, she and Biden claim is that women make 83 cents for every dollar paid to their average male counterpart, and the disparities are even greater for minority women.

But according to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact website, that claim is a bit disingenuous. The 80 or 83 cents figures are not an apples-to-apples comparison of men and women performing the same work. Instead, the figures refer to average pay for all jobs held by men and all jobs held by women.

Make no mistake, though — there still is a pay gap between gender and race in this country. Politifact says it varies based on industry, but the main problem is not that men and women are getting paid differently for the same work. It’s that women often are not given the opportunity to do the same work as men.

In their announcement, Biden and Harris focused on federal employment, with the president signing an executive order that would limit the use of salary history in employment decisions by federal contractors. The Department of Labor also issued a new directive to strengthen pay equity audits by federal contractors.

While these are good steps, they don’t go far enough or address the real cause of the gender and racial pay gap: the lack of women and minorities in middle- and high-level jobs.

Employers must address this disparity, and many have started with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Both the public and institutional investors are now insisting on these initiatives as a condition of investment dollars, which should ensure that such programs have real substance and are more than public relations campaigns.

This is how real change happens. The government cannot and should not legislate every aspect of our lives. It’s much more effective if change is demanded by the public, which has the ability to motivate companies with their decision to buy — or not buy — products or services based on how they feel a company is treating its workers. Institutional investors have the same ability.

Women and minorities also have a role to play in this. They should start focusing on studying fields that traditionally have been dominated by white males — computer science, banking and law, to name just a few — because any initiative will fall short of its goals without enough qualified candidates.

All this is important for more than just women and minorities. It’s important for the American family, since more than half of families are now headed by women.

Study after study has shown that, along with the lack of a father, poverty and working-poor conditions are key indications for future criminal behavior among youth. Women, especially minority women, have been overlooked for too long and need opportunities to move into better, higher-paying jobs.

Equal jobs are the real cause of the gender and minority pay gaps. Both sides must focus on improving on those opportunities.

Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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