Equal Pay Act at 60: What You Can do to Close the Gender Wage Gap

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Joi Chaney

Founder and Principal, J.O.I. Strategies

This year, the nation will observe the 60th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act– the law that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis sex in the payment of wages. When he signed the bill on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy noted that the average women at the time earned only 60 cents on the dollar of the average man. He also acknowledged that in order to truly close the wage gap, the nation would have to address issues like childcare so that women did not have to choose between working and caring for their children.  He— and all the leaders surrounding him that night, including Dorothy Height, who received one of the signing pens— must have been incredibly hopeful that this would be a moment of breakthrough for women workers. Sixty years later, we know they were right: The Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and their progeny ushered in a new era of women’s progress. But, if they were with us, we know that these leaders would also be sadly unsurprised at the progress we have yet to make, especially for Black women and other women of color. 

The contributors to the gap are obvious but also far more complicated to solve than we hoped for – and that accounts for the systemic contributors we can address via legislation and appropriation. There are cultural norms, misogyny, racism, and other bias that disadvantage women that will take greater time to work through, assuming we are even willing as a nation to try. But the question remains, what can any of us – especially at the Black Women’s Roundtable – do to honor the work of those who came before us? 

Here’s what you can do now to close the gender wage gap: 

  1. Understand the pay gap. The average woman still makes less than the average man, even when you control for race. Today, the average woman working full-time, year-round makes 84 cents on the dollar made by the average man. The average Black woman working full-time, year-round makes 67 cents on the dollar of a comparable White non-Hispanic man but also makes less than a comparable Black, non-Hispanic man. Over the course of a 40-year career, this gap results in a loss of nearly 400,000 for the average woman and nearly $900,000 for the average Black woman. This number also changes by state. For example, in the District of Columbia, the average lifetime loss for Black women is $2,000,000 when compared against the earnings of a White, non-Hispanic men. 
  1. Hold lawmakers accountable. Among the key contributors to the wage gap are an inadequate minimum wage, including an inequitable tipped minimum wage; lack of affordable child care and paid leave, which makes it harder for women to work consistently; occupational segregation, which concentrates women in lower paying fields; and employment discrimination, including pregnancy and perceived caregiver discrimination, discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity, and sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in the workplace. 

To address this, the Biden-Harris Administration must prioritize and Congress must pass a constellation of bills aimed at closing the gender wage gap, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, which strengthens pay discrimination laws, permits pay transparency, and limits the use of prior salary; the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which provides 12 weeks of paid leave; the Childcare for Working Families Act, which provides child care and early learning to low and moderate-income families; the Fair Employment Protection Act, which strengthens workplace anti-harassment protections; and the Raise the Wage Act, which raises the federal minimum wage to $15/hour and phases out the subminimum wage for tipped workers, youth workers, and workers with disabilities. And while these are all federal bills, state leaders must also be held accountable for adopting workplace policies that will close the gender wage gap. 

The Biden-Harris Administration must also make good on its promise to assist and invest in the stability and growth of women and minority owned businesses of all sizes. The remaining challenges of the workplace have led women – and especially Black women – to over index for entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, women are often the least likely to receive venture capital, private equity investments, traditional business loans, and receive government contracts. In 2022, sole women-founded firms received only 2 percent of venture capital dollars. Less than 5 percent of the federal government’s contracting dollars went to women owned businesses. Moreover, Black business owners are three times less likely than Whites to receive funding and are therefore more likely to self-fund their businesses. This means that while owning a small business may be attractive to women as a means of building generational wealth, it is not yet fully viable for women. 

  1. Support Women in the Workplace. Perhaps the greatest reason the wage gap persists is the existence of misogynist cultural norms that demand women take on a larger share of household responsibilities, regardless of whether they are the primary or co-breadwinner; hyper-scrutinize women and their choices; and devalue women and their contributions. The illusion that we had moved past these norms were destroyed with the election of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, women were more likely than men to reduce their hours or leave the workforce altogether to care for children, even when they were a breadwinner. Women were also more likely to work in fields that were on the frontlines of the pandemic or impacted by pandemic shutdowns.  And then there is the bias and disparate treatment in the workplace, that leaves women measured by performance and personality while men are measured by potential and character; that defines professionalism and leadership in terms that favor a stereotypical white, heterosexual, protestant male worker; and that weaponize women against other women for sport. These phenomena are most acutely felt by Black women – from Vice President Harris to your favorite auntie. As with entrepreneurs, Black women are traditionally believed to be among the most ambitious in the workplace but are the least supported in the workplace and the challenges they are face are not only from men but also other women (and other Black women).  

The good news is that stopping these biased behaviors does not require an act of Congress or an Executive Order. It only requires that we– especially those of us in positions of privilege— be fierce in our rejection of all things misogynist and misogynoir-ist in the workplace and proactive in our support of women, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. 

If we can recommit ourselves to closing the gender wage gap, then we can thwart the somber prediction that it will take more than 200 years to achieve pay equity. President Kennedy, Dorothy Height, and the many other women who made the Equal Pay Act a reality are counting on us to finish the job of closing the gender wage and wealth gap. More importantly, the generations of women to come are counting on us as well. 


 Available at https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-upon-signing-the-equal-pay-act 

Available at https://nwlc.org/resource/the-lifetime-wage-gap-by-state-for-women-overall/# 

Available at https://nwlc.org/resource/the-lifetime-wage-gap-by-state-for-black-women/ 

Available at https://pitchbook.com/news/articles/the-vc-female-founders-dashboard#:~:text=Venture%20capital%20funding%20overall%20has,t%20tell%20the%20whole%20story

Available at https://www.govexec.com/management/2023/03/99-women-owned-businesses-say-federal-government-hasnt-done-enough-support-them-survey-finds/383584/ 

Available at https://www.jpmorgan.com/wealth-management/wealth-partners/insights/black-women-are-the-fastest-growing-group-of-entrepreneurs-but-the-job-isnt-easy#footnote-9 

 Available at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/09/28/mothers-are-3-times-more-likely-than-fathers-to-have-lost-jobs-in-pandemic 

Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/02/opinion/kamala-harris-vice-president-expectations.html 

Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/danabrownlee/2022/10/21/black-women-leaders-are-more-ambitious-but-less-supported-at-work-mckinsey-and-lean-in-study-finds/?sh=2037e9eb6e48