Equal Pay Day highlights persistent wage disparity

For most working stiffs, Tuesday came and went just like any other weekday.

But it also had some significance of its own. Known as Equal Pay Day, April 12 marked the date in 2011 when women's pay caught up to what men made the previous year.

“It’s a really good way for people to visualize the discrepancy” between men's and women's wages, said Jennifer Pope-Baker, director of the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana. 

The Washington, D.C.-based National Committee on Pay Equity organized the annual recognition day in 1996 to draw attention to the gap, which the group says has been closing at a rate of less than a half-cent a year since the federal Equal Pay Act passed in 1963. At that time, women made 58.9 cents for every dollar paid to men.

The most recent statistics available show women nationally earn an average of 80 cents to every dollar men make. In Indiana, women working full time are paid an average of $31,762 per year while men earn an average of $43,631 annually, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show.

Advocates are making progress, however. A bill known as the Paycheck Fairness Act has been reintroduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives after stalling in the Senate last year.

Supporters say the legislation would provide a needed update to the 1963 law by requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women performing the same work stem from factors other than gender. It also would provide workers with the means they need to ensure equal compensation, including fair remedies, additional enforcement tools and technical assistance and training for both employers and employees.

Critics deny gender is a factor in the pay disparity, saying the difference typically has more to do with the jobs workers perform. And opponents of the legislation have said the bill would result in more lawsuits, which would be expensive for businesses to fight.

Despite the push for equal pay, many local women don't know about the 5-year-old awareness day.

Count successful Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer Linda Pence among them.

Though she admittedly earns a better salary than many of her male counterparts, her rise to the top of the legal profession was hardly an easy climb.

“I had to fight and claw my way to the top,” she said.

Pence recalled her days as a young law clerk in 1972, when she earned $95 a week, only to discover that her male colleagues were earning $100 a week. Though the disparity was just $5, Pence raised the issue with her boss and was awarded the difference.

“If you have good employees and you pay them in a disparate fashion, you’ll lose their loyalty,” she said.

Myra Borshoff also was unaware of Equal Pay Day. Yet, the owner of Borshoff, the city’s largest public relations firm, supports the campaign.

Her company has 49 employees, 35 of whom are women.

Borshoff thinks instances of pay disparity occur more often at the management level than in lower-level positions.

“As you move up the ladder, those lines tend to get fuzzier and fuzzier,” she said.

Borshoff said she never experienced pay discrimination during her career and thinks women are making progress.

“Not that there isn't more work to be done,” she said, “but I believe, for the most part, we’re making progress.”


Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.