Events , Featured , News | Jan 29, 2018 | Back to List

rachel-k-equal-pay-billMy name is Rachel Kauppila and I am the Job Developer at Vermont Works for Women and I am here to express our enthusiastic support for this bill. Vermont Works for Women (VWW) helps women and girls recognize their potential and explore, pursue, and excel in work that leads to economic independence. The wage gap in Vermont, which amounts to women earning $0.84 for every $1 earned by a man, makes it very difficult for women to achieve economic independence.

The wage gap is a complex issue that many people in our communities are working on. Our Rosie’s Girls programs are introducing girls at a young age to non-traditional careers – fields where the wage gap is narrowest. Our tech schools are actively encouraging high school girls to pursue work in high-paying technical fields where there are jobs available and there is room for advancement. Conferences and workshops across the state encourage women to negotiate their salary, and to apply for jobs even if they do not meet 100% of the qualifications – men are negotiating, men are applying, so we need to do it too! But all of these efforts pale in comparison to an actual bill that will make it illegal for employers to pay women and men differently for equal work.

What’s particularly exciting about this bill, is that not only does it prohibit wage discrimination, but it does two additional important things. First, it prohibits employers from asking for a prospective employee’s previous compensation, and if they do find out, it prohibits them from paying the employee based on that previous compensation. Asking what a woman got paid previously and determining what you will pay them based on this is one way that the wage gap has been perpetuated. I am constantly encouraging the women I work with to leave those questions blank on job applications, and to wait for the employer to suggest a wage or salary so that they are not leaving money on the table that they didn’t even know was there.
Second, this bill encourages transparency around wages by preventing employers from requiring that employees not discuss their compensation. I believe that lack of transparency around wages is the number one reason that the wage gap is able to persist. You can’t fight for equal pay if you don’t know that you’re not being paid equally. I was asked to come here to tell a story about someone I’ve worked with who has experienced wage discrimination, but the truth is that most of the women I serve have no way of knowing if they are not being paid equally.

Anything that we can do to encourage transparency around wages will help to eliminate the wage gap.

One example of wage discrimination that I do know of, happened to a woman I know who works in an office at a local academic institution, we’ll call her Sara. When Sara was hired she was told that there was no room for negotiation in her salary, that it was based on experience and education. After working there for a while a woman colleague approached her and told her that Sara had more experience and education than her male predecessor and that she was getting paid less. Due to some level of wage transparency at this institution Sara was able to confirm that her salary was indeed $5000 less than her older, male predecessor, despite the fact that Sara had a Master’s degree – which he didn’t, and which the position said it required – and equivalent experience. When she raised the issue with her supervisor and with Human Resources they were unable to explain why she was getting paid less but she was told that she should be grateful for was she was getting. Only after Sara had won an award for her accomplishments in her position did she finally receive the raise that means that she is now making what her less-qualified, older, male predecessor had made.

As you can see, this institution’s transparency around wages was the only way that Sara even knew she was being discriminated against. It is likely that if this law had been effect when Sara was going through this, Human Resources would have been much less likely to blow her off knowing that this kind of discrimination was not only unjust, but illegal. Additionally, the law would have made the institution liable for the amount of underpaid wages and equal amount for damages.

The wage gap is huge problem in Vermont, and has serious consequences for the vitality of the Vermont economy. It is ridiculous that 4 out of 10 women who work full-time do not earn enough to cover basic living expenses. This bill would make a huge difference in helping to eliminate the wage gap by making wage discrimination illegal, by preventing employers from asking about previous compensation, and by encouraging transparency around wages.
Vermont Works for Women is in full support of this bill.

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