Ivanka Trump gave a rousing defense of her father’s presidential candidacy from a supposedly feminist standpoint at the Republican National Convention last summer.
“Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career,” she claimed, to roaring applause. “He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this too right alongside of him.”
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It would be easy to forget that those pledges were made just over a year ago.
On Tuesday night, President Trump announced that his administration is halting an equal pay rule put in place by the Obama administration. The rule would have required large companies to collect and report information on their pay scales broken down by gender and race starting later this year. The data wouldn’t have been made available to everyone; it would have been stored with the country’s anti-discrimination enforcer, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which could have used it to identify companies with unfair wage gaps and demand that they compensate everyone equally.
The idea isn’t that controversial in other places. Beginning next year, the United Kingdom will require large companies to publish their pay scales broken down by gender for all to see. (It required such a disclosure of the BBC’s top paid employees this year, uncovering a huge disparity in pay between men and women, which set off a firestorm of criticism against the broadcaster.) Norway allows any citizen to look up someone else’s tax returns, and therefore, their pay—so women can compare themselves to male colleagues. Iceland is contemplating going even further: It’s the first country in the world to consider making all companies publicly prove that they pay men and women equally on a regular basis.
President Obama’s disclosure requirement may sound like an obscure administrative change in comparison. But it had the potential to actually improve pay equality. Technically speaking, paying people less because of their gender or race is illegal in this country. Yet women still make just 80 percent of what men work when they work full-time all year long, on average, and women of color make even less. It’s been about a decade since the wage gap has significantly closed.
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In practice, someone who’s being paid unfairly first has to find out that’s the case—about half of the workforce says they can’t openly talk about compensation with colleagues, so many people may not even know they’re being shortchanged—and then take the often costly, time consuming, and possibly career damaging step of filing a lawsuit. In the end, the odds aren’t in favor of winning such a case: about two-thirds of such charges with the EEOC end in favor of the employer, not the woman accusing it of pay discrimination.
That was the beauty of President Obama’s equal pay rule. It took the burden of uncovering and fixing unfair pay gaps off of individual women and people of color. Instead, companies would have been forced to take a hard look at their own pay scales. If they were still fine with reporting the numbers as is, including potential wage gaps, the government could step in and crack down on those that were discriminating against women and people of color.
Disclosing pay information has already proven to be an effective remedy for unequal pay. In unionized workplaces, for example, women make 94 percent of men’s wages; unions tend to help standardize pay scales and also make them transparent. The same is true in the public sector, where pay scales are known and rigid—and the pay gap has been much smaller and steadily shrinking for years. Salary transparency has been found to raise pay for everyone.
Businesses tried to claim that the new rule was a huge headache that they shouldn’t have to comply with. The Chamber of Commerce argued it “would place unnecessary and onerous burdens on employers while providing no meaningful insight.” But the rule would have simply added the disclosures to a form companies have to provide to the government anyway. And if they’re not willing to do this work themselves, they put the onus of achieving equal pay on their employees instead.
They should instead welcome this prod to take a look at how they compensate women and people of color. Many may not even realize that they have discriminatory pay scales. It wasn’t until Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff launched a program to examine his company’s compensation that he figured out that women were making less than men at this company, even though he said he “never intended” that. On top of that, research has found that increased pay transparency leads to employees working more productively.
After making her speech at the RNC last year, Ivanka Trump has tried to continue claiming that she stands for women’s equality. “#EqualPayDay is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work,” she tweeted earlier this year. “We must work to close the gender pay gap!” Yet she was quick to support her father’s decision to block Obama’s equal pay rule this week, saying that “the proposed policy would not yield the intended results.”
It seems she’s fine with leaving it up to individual women to do the work of closing the gender wage gap all by themselves.