On National Equal Pay Day this week, the Shumlin administration announced the creation of an initiative aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women in Vermont.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women are paid 78 cents for every dollar a man earns nationally. Females fare a bit better in Vermont, earning 83 cents for every dollar a man is paid.
In an effort to close the wage gap, Governor Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Commission on Women have launched the Vermont Equal Pay Compact. Commission Executive Director Cary Brown says it’s based on work being done in Massachusetts. “We were inspired by a group in Boston called the Boston Women’s Workforce Council that’s doing something similar. We thought that having a voluntary compact that employers could sign on to saying what steps they’re going to take to help close the wage gap would be a great compliment to legislation and education and other kinds of policy change that can help us all work together to make sure we get rid of this wage gap.”
Women Business Owners Network Vice President Mary Claire Carroll owns Carroll Photos. She calls the Vermont Equal Pay Compact a wonderful idea. “Women and women organizations have been fighting for equal pay since the early 1900's. Most people don’t know that. The battle has been going on for quite a while and since the equal pay act was signed in 1963 by John F. Kennedy we’ve made very little progress. Despite legislation, despite years of work to close the gap, it’s slow progress. What the compact does - it’s an education program. It’s also about talking about the benefits of equal pay.”
The initiative is voluntary. When employers sign the compact they will be asked, according to Brown, to provide concrete steps that they will take to both learn about the wage gap and address it in their workplace. “They could range from things like providing information about the wage gap to your employees. They could be doing an internal audit to see if you really are paying everybody equally. It can be things like establishing a mentoring or leadership development program or helping women learn negotiation skills, because that’s another reason why they don’t get paid as much. It can be doing education programs that are exposing young women and girls to your field because exposure to different kinds of careers is often the reason why girls don’t take the right education to be able to enter the higher paying jobs. So it’s really going to depend what the individual employer is doing already and how they want to expand what they’re doing.”
Carroll says she’s been involved in the equal pay issue for a long time and is excited that the Shumlin administration and the Commission on Women have created an initiative to try to close the wage gap. “I’ve always felt there’s several ways to go about this. One is the legislation piece and the other part is the education piece, both educating employees and employers about the value of closing the gender gap. Years ago there was this study done at the national level that looked at all the reasons for the pay gap that people throw out. After taking away all those factors, they kept coming down to the basic thing that there is still discrimination out there. There’s still employers that feel that a woman doesn’t need to get paid the same as a man for doing the same job.”