Meet the Woman Trying to Smash the Gender Pay Gap
On Friday, the seventh anniversary of his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, President Obama introduced a slate of new measures aimed at addressing the stubborn gender pay gap.
“Today, women account for almost half of the workforce. But the typical woman who works full-time still earns 79 cents for every dollar that the typical man does,” the president explained. “The gap is even wider for women of color. The typical black working woman makes only 60 cents. The typical Latino woman makes only 55 cents for every dollar a white man earns.”
The pay gap “doesn’t just offend our values,” Obama said. “At a time when women are increasingly the breadwinners in our households, paying them less makes it harder for families to cover the necessities.”
The steps he took Friday will, among other things, require companies with 100 or more employees to collect and report pay data by race, ethnicity and gender to the Department of Labor. The president also reiterated a call for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — legislation that would punish employers for retaliating against workers who share wage information, and allow employees to sue for punitive damages.
Lilly Ledbetter, the woman for whom the 2009 law is named, never wanted to be the face of this movement. At 77, she tells Rolling Stone she would rather be home “reading my books and [doing] other things I wanted to do in retirement instead of traveling and talking about equal pay.”
Ledbetter doesn’t have a choice — she missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime and retirement benefits because she was not paid the same amount as her male counterparts. “I have to work part-time in order to be able to stay independent — to make up the difference of what I should have gotten in my retirement,” she says.
Ledbetter went to work for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, Alabama, in 1979. When she was hired, she says, “they explained to me that if I discussed my pay I wouldn’t have a job. It was top-secret. You just didn’t talk about your pay, not on a salary level.”
She didn’t question her pay until 1998, when she received an anonymous note in her mailbox comparing her salary with that of three men with the exact same job. She was making 40 percent less than they were.