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Gender-Based Wage Gap Persists, Experts Agree at EEOC Forum

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Panels of Speakers and Informational Fair Commemorate Equal Pay Day at Agency

WASHINGTON—Gender-based wage discrimination remains a problem today and a percentage of the wage discrepancy cannot be explained by non-discriminatory factors, said government and private experts at a public forum held today at the headquarters of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The forum was one of 24 such events the EEOC is sponsoring across the country during April and May to raise awareness of the problem of wage discrimination and to educate the public.  The Commission is a key member of the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, launched by President Obama to “improve compliance, public education, and enforcement of equal pay laws.”  The headquarters event featured leaders from other Task Force members including the Departments of Justice and Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management.

“We have come a long way since the days when gender-based inequities in access to jobs and payment of wages were sanctioned by law, but studies show that a significant portion of the wage disparity cannot be explained by differences in experience, specific work performed, education or other non-discriminatory factors,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.  “This persistent disparity is a stark reminder that the EEOC’s work to end every form of sex discrimination in the workplace -- including compensation discrimination -- is still unfinished business.”

In addition to Chair Berrien, the following government experts presented their agencies’ particular perspectives on the issue of wage discrimination: Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice; Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL); Patricia Shiu, Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), DOL; Nancy J. Leppink, Acting Administrator of the Wage & Hour Division, DOL; and Christine Griffin, Deputy Director, Office of Personnel Management.

Sara Manzano-Diaz of the Women’s Bureau -- which celebrated the 90th anniversary of its founding last year -- said that from its inception the Bureau had as one of its main purposes the equalization of wages between women and men.  Patricia Shiu, head of the OFCCP, told the audience of approximately 125 people that closing the wage gap is not just a civil rights issue, but an American recovery issue.  All the government leaders stressed the value of the inter-agency cooperation that has resulted from the national Task Force.

Katherine M. Kimpel, a partner in the law firm Sanford Wittels & Heisler, kicked off the second panel by stating that if women think they are being paid equitably in their jobs, unless they have looked at the relevant data, the likelihood is that they are not. She said that many times women had come to consult her about other discrimination issues, insisting that pay was not a problem, only to find out later that they were being underpaid.

Serena Fong of Catalyst, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, said that there is a gender leadership gap as well as a pay gap. She noted that over 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies have male CEOs, and that the salary studies conducted by Catalyst show that women at these companies start off with salaries $4,600 less than men, even accounting for differences in education and experience.

Cecelie Counts, the legislative representative of the AFL-CIO, told the group that it’s important not to forget the lowest wage earners -- day care workers, cleaners, aides -- for whom the wage gap has an even more pronounced impact.  According to Lisa Maatz, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations of the American Association for University Women (AAUW), one way to try to combat the wage gap is through legislation.  She regretted the failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act to pass during the last Congress, but noted that the bill had been reintroduced in the Senate and House.

Following the formal presentations, audience members attended an informational fair with materials provided by a variety of organizations, including the Society of Human Resource Management; the National Partnership of Women and Families; the National Committee on Pay Equity; the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights; and Mana, a national Latina organization.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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