by Sharayah Lane
More than 50 people gathered at Westlake Center last Tuesday in support of the nationwide celebration of Equal Pay Day, an event designed to raise awareness about the continuing pay gaps between men and women and hosted by South Seattle based non-profit Moms Rising.
That the event was held on a Tuesday was not by happenstance. The day was deliberately chosen to represent how far into the next work week women living in the United States had to work in order to earn what men in this country earned the previous week.
Similar events took place across the country dedicating a day to conversations about the intricacies of the wage gap and how to work toward a more equitable workplace for women around the country.
One of the keynote speakers was 37th District State Senator Pramila Jayapal who focused her attention on the role race plays in the pay gap. The average woman in Washington State makes $0.79 for every dollar $1 made by a white male, but there is a stark difference in those numbers when race is taken into account.
“Washington African-American women earn 60 cents and Latinas only 55 cents to every dollar that white men make,” said Jayapal, “As we begin to unpack all of these things it becomes very complex because there is no total solution. There’s a lot of different pieces to how we make sure we are addressing the gender pay gap to all women and especially women of color.”
The solution to closing the gender pay gap remains a widely debated issue across the country. Race, children, marital status, class and education are just some of the underlying intersections that make a single solution to the problem almost impossible. This is why Jayapal and others have endorsed a range of legislative solutions aimed at addressing various issues affecting marginalized groups.
Bills like the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, which passed just last month, states “If any employee receives less compensation based on gender, that employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the full amount of compensation.” The fight for the $15 minimum wage would also directly impact women as approximately 2/3 of minimum wage jobs are held by women. Groups like Rise Up Washington are working to get the minimum wage initiative on the 2016 November ballot
The Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act has yet to receive a hearing in the state legislature. This law differs from the Family and Medical Leave Act by offering up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for employees stating, “the legislature finds that many individuals do not have access to family and medical leave laws, and those who do may not be in a financial position to take family and medical leave that is unpaid.”
Maggie Humphreys, Public Affairs director of Moms Rising, helped plan the event, which included a bake sale with a bit of twist: All women received a 20 percent wage gap discount.
The Columbia City resident explained how we as a nation are embarking on a new time in gender equality in the work place.
“Women are half of the workforce for the first time ever in history,” said Humphreys, “So we have to work to undo these old policies that we have for how we manage our workforce.”
She is pushing for additional protections for women in the workforce in other areas of their lives, not just their paychecks.
“Women are the predominant caregivers in their families and in Washington it costs more to send your child to daycare than to send them to college. This is absurd.”
Unraveling the complexity of the gender pay gap across the country continues to be a challenge for those who are working to do so, but Humphreys says every step gets Washington state closer to that goal. Senator Jayapal expressed her plans to continue to work towards a more equitable workplace for all.
“I’m excited about the opportunity we have,” said Jayapal, “To show people what women can do when we put our collective power, our collective voice and our collective experience together to solve this country’s problem.”