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One Pennsylvania shop charges women less than men for goods – here's why

Our idea was simple: each item would have two price tags, one for men and one for women.

Heather Arnet

EACH YEAR, at the Women and Girls Foundation in Pennsylvania, we try to think of creative ways to bring attention to the gender pay gap.

Throughout the year we work to pass public policy to decrease inequality. Equal Pay Day provides us with an annual opportunity to engage the public on this important issue. For many years we have held Equal Pay Day rallies in city centres, where local elected officials would make commitments to work over the next year to decrease the wage gap.

In Pennsylvania, a woman earns just 76% compared to her male counterpart

We have had several policy wins come out of these rallies, which have particularly helped to decrease the gap for government workers by putting in place wage equity legislation at the city and county levels. And yet the gap for most working women in our state of Pennsylvania, and throughout the US, persists. The wage gap on average in the US is 22%. In Pennsylvania, a woman earns just 76% compared to her male counterpart. And the numbers are even starker for women of colour, with Latinas in America earning just 53 cents on the dollar, and African-American women 64%.

At our annual Equal Pay Day rallies, teenage women who participate in our GirlGov program would hold “Equal Pay Day Bake Sales.” At the bake sale, those who identified as women could purchase baked goods for $0.75 cents, while men paid $1.00. The price women were charged at the bake sale related each year directly to that year’s wage gap.

Innovative ways of highlighting the pay gap

And so, we were thrilled when graphic designer, Elana Schlenker, came to our office to discuss a new idea she had for Equal Pay Day. Elana wanted to launch a “pop-up” shop in a local neighborhood for the month of April (the month EPD takes place in the US).

The store would have art, crafts, poetry, pottery, made by women artisans and artists, and each item would have two price tags. One would reflect what women would pay for the item. The second tag would be for men. The “women’s” price would always be 76% of the retail price, reflecting our state’s wage gap.

We loved the idea. It was reminiscent of the bake sale our teens held each year, but took it to a new level. We loved the “sticker shock” effect that Elana’s store would bring about. So, the Women and Girls Foundation made a grant to Elana to launch her project and it has been a huge success. The store, 76<100, has been covered by national and international press including Huffington Post and MSNBC. Ms. Schlenker will soon be taking the idea on the road, with her next store scheduled to “pop-up” in New Orleans, where the store will likely be called 66

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The wage gap for women in Ireland

The National Women’s Council of Ireland has reported that the wage gap for women in Ireland is 14%. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics reports that in the UK the gender pay gap has narrowed, to 9.4% compared with 10.0% in 2013. It states “This is the lowest since records began in 1997, and despite a relatively large increase between 2012 and 2013, there is an overall downward trend, from 17.4% in 1997.”

What is striking about this data is that in the United States in 1997 the gender wage gap was 25%. The US national average today in 2015 is 22%. In fact, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart recently cited a new study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) that predicts women in the US won’t reach pay parity with men until 2058.

One Pennsylvania shop charges women less than men for goods – here's why
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What are the causes of the gender pay gap? 

Why does the gender wage gap persist? And why is it so much worse for women in the US?

First, women in the US still do not have equal protection guaranteed to them by their Constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), designed to guarantee equal rights for women was written by American Suffragettes, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and introduced to Congress in 1923. It passed both houses of Congress in 1972. The law then needed to be ratified by 38 states, within ten years, to become an official amendment of the US constitution. Unfortunately only 30 states ratified the amendment by 1982 and the amendment failed.

Maternity benefit

The United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not provide some form of paid parental leave. Unlike our sisters in Ireland, who can receive a maternity benefit up to 26 weeks, and Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks in the UK, in the United States women are not provided or guaranteed by their government even one day of paid maternity leave.

Public polices like equal rights amendments and paid parental leave acknowledge women as full citizens, recognise the value of our work within and outside the home, and create a more level playing field for women to compete in the workplace.

Data indicates women are required to have more qualifications than men 

Other contributors to the wage gap are that women are overrepresented in low wage jobs, and under represented in higher wage jobs – but that does not account for the entire gap. The American Association for University Women released a report just this year confirming that, “From elementary and middle school teachers to computer programmers, women are paid less than men in female-dominated, gender-balanced, and male-dominated occupations.”

The IWPR study referenced by comedian Jon Stewart also presents this sobering fact, “The gap in earnings is largest for those with the highest levels of educational attainment: women with a graduate degree earn only 69% of what comparable men earn, and women with a bachelor’s degree earn 71% of the amount their male counterparts earn. These data indicate that women need more educational qualifications than men do to secure jobs that pay well.”

Stating ‘previous salary’ compounds the problem

One way that companies inadvertently cause women to carry the wage gap with them from job to job is by requiring job candidates to submit their current earnings information when applying for a new position. Most employers offer a compensation package to that new employee based on her previous salary.

What employers should be doing is placing a specific salary value on a job based on that job’s responsibilities and value to the company. If someone is deemed qualified for a job, they should be offered a salary to compensate them for doing that job, not a salary based on the employee’s past earnings.

Employers consider the current practise a way of developing a salary based on the employee’s market value. But as long as there is a wage gap, and women are undervalued in the workplace, this is a surefire way to ensure that the wage gap continues. A more equitable policy would be to establish salaries based on the market value of the position. This practice alone could go far in decreasing the wage gap.

We need to improve the valuation of “women’s work”

Other things we can do? Increase the minimum wage and wages for “tipped” workers. Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the United States. Not coincidently, 60% of households living in poverty in America are led by single mothers.

As a global community, we need to improve the valuation of “women’s work.” Traditionally, waste truck workers have been paid higher wages then child care and elder care providers. Is this really because we as a society believe that it is more important and physically and emotionally challenging to remove waste from our community, then it is to take care of the physical, medical, and emotional needs of those we hold most precious?

Just like rock formations in nature and potholes in our streets, wage gaps do not just appear. They are created by environmental conditions and direct impacts. We have the power to fill our potholes in equity. But it will take deliberate action and real culture change to improve it.

Heather Arnet is the CEO of the Women & Girls Foundation in Pennsylvania, and Board Chair of the Ms Foundation for Women. She also has directed a film, Madame Presidenta: Why Not US? currently touring the US For more info: www.wgfpa.org

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Heather Arnet

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