Dear Fairygodboss Community,
We are at a pivotal moment in American history. Women are increasingly entering fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented, while standing on the shoulders of past champions for equality. We are scientists, engineers, and astronauts. We are senators, governors, and mayors. We have senior positions from the board room to the White House. We are coaches and star athletes. We are graduating from college at higher rates than men. We are role models for all of our daughters and sons.
We should be proud of our progress, yet still, disparities persist. The typical woman makes 79 cents on the dollar, as compared to our typical male colleague. Compared to the typical non-Hispanic white man, the typical African American woman makes 60 cents on the dollar, while the typical Hispanic woman makes 55 cents. Women are also less likely to start or run small businesses. We face a tougher climb up the ranks of corporate America, and tend to drop out of fields such as computer science after only a few years. And we still suffer from gender stereotypes that limit our reach beginning in early childhood.
So, on this Equal Pay Day, let’s ask what more we can all do to ensure we continue to create equal opportunities for all Americans. Inequality in the workforce doesn’t just adversely affect women; it affects our families and our broader economy. As President Obama says, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
In his first month in office, President Obama proudly signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for women to challenge unjust pay disparities. He has taken steps to ensure businesses report detailed data so they know when they have a pay gap in their workplaces and so we can better enforce of existing laws, and he has prohibited federal contractors from retaliating against workers who share compensation data with one another. He continues to call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to further protect women from wage discrimination; to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would provide seven paid sick days; and to pass legislation that provides for paid leave – because still, the United States remains the only developed country without a national paid leave policy. The President has signed Presidential Memoranda that advance six weeks of paid sick leave to all federal employees and direct agencies to expand workplace flexibility to the maximum extent practicable. He also recognizes that change must come from outside of government, so he has called on leaders from the private sector to adopt family-friendly workplace policies, including affordable child care, workplace flexibility, paid sick days, paid leave, and raising the minimum wage – factors that affect the pay gap between men and women.
So yes, we have made progress. The pay gap has narrowed slightly. Companies such as Salesforce and Gap have enacted policies to ensure men and women are treated equally, so they can thrive at home and at work.
And when Congress failed to act, the President challenged states and cities across the country to raise their minimum wage laws and create paid family or sick leave programs. So far, at least 65 cities and 18 states have responded, with New York and California the latest to join and San Francisco about to become the first American city to provide six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents.
But new laws and policies alone will not fix the problems we still face. We must continue to challenge the belief that a woman who negotiates her salary is being difficult or ungrateful, or that having a child must go hand in hand with sacrificing one’s professional aspirations. We need to constantly reinforce with our girls that they too can be whatever they want to be regardless of outdated gender norms. That they, too, can break through the glass ceiling to wherever their passions lead them.
We need to have this conversation, and we ask you to be a part of it. On May 23rd, the White House will host the Summit on the United State of Women – a daylong opportunity to take stock of the progress we have made together and the road ahead of us. In the meantime, let's ask ourselves: How will we further the #StateOfWomen to expand opportunities and pave paths without barriers? How will you contribute to the conversation?
Thanks for your partnership, and for all the work you do to leave behind a better country for all of our daughters and sons.
Valerie Jarrett, is chair of the White House Council on Women & Girls and advisor to President Obama. We are so pleased she wanted to share her thoughts directly with the Fairygodboss community on Equal Pay Day.
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