It has been against the law to pay women less than men for the same job simply because of gender since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed by President John F. Kennedy.
So why is there a Paycheck Fairness Act being debated in Congress in 2014? And why does President Barack Obama cite the statistic women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men?
The 77 cents figure is actual and misleading at the same time. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does support its accuracy. But it is an overall figure that compares all working men and all working women.
When economists start controlling for contributing factors such as college major, education level, occupation choice and amount of experience, that 23-percent gap shrinks considerably. A recent report from the Office of Personnel Management found rational justification for all but 3.8 percentage points of that gap. A 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office concluded 7 percent of the wage disparity could not be explained by occupation and other factors.
We believe the gap is shrinking, that it is concentrated in the lowest-paid occupations, and that the 77 cents figure is not all based on discriminatory practices. But if up to 7 percent of the difference cannot be assigned to rational control factors, then there is a problem that persists to this very day.
As it does not appear Congress will find enough common ground to do anything meaningful, we appreciate the approach taken by the Women's Leadership Project at Fort Hays State University. The Leadership Studies Department hosted its third annual "$tart $mart $alary Negotiation Workshop" and zeroed in on the negotiation process. The first job offer after graduation likely will set the course for the female diploma-holder's lifetime earnings.
Statistics support the reality of women starting their careers with lower salaries than men. The workshop offered valuable tips to the students in attendance.
"Know what you're worth," said Jill Arensdorf, chairwoman of Leadership Studies. "And know what is reasonable for the position."
Upon receiving an offer, the prospective employee needs to remind themselves they have power. The employer gave it to her by indicating she had the skills they were looking for.
"Salary is based on four things," said Christie Brungardt, director of the Women's Leadership Project. "Assessment of your capabilities, employer's budget, market rates for the job and your ability to negotiate."
That ability to negotiate is coupled with the willingness to do it. And that falls back on self.
"Understand, although it would be easy to blame other people for women making less money," Brungardt said, "many times the first person to blame would be looking you back in the mirror."
We support the empowerment techniques offered to FHSU students. These women might not be able to overcome gender discrimination that unfortunately still exists in today's economy, but they can do something about the pay disparity by being pro-active.
The FHSU Leadership Studies Department and the Women's Leadership Project are to be commended for their approach. Helping young women realize their value and potential and maximize their negotiating skills will do much more to increase paycheck fairness than anything elected leaders in Washington will ever devise.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry