Lilly Ledbetter was hired in 1979 as a supervisor at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and worked there for the next 20+ years. When she retired in 1998, she sued the company for paying her significantly less than her male counterparts.
Initially, her pay was on par with her male colleagues, but after being promoted to area manager she earned significantly less than the men in that same role. The Supreme Court denied her claim because she did not file suit within 180 days after receiving her first pay check in 1979.
That was one step back for all women.
But in 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which relaxed the timelines for a work discrimination filing. In 2014, Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss their compensation.
Then, in January 2016, Obama announced a proposal to collect pay data by gender, race and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees to help promote transparency in discriminatory pay practices across industries and occupations.
The movement toward equal pay does not just benefit women. Higher pay enables higher consumer spending overall, similar to the way low gas prices help boost our economy. Furthermore, enabling women to better plan for their financial future puts less burden on tax-funded government programs. After all, as a general rule women need to prepare for a longer life and financial future.
This issue affects couples as much as it does single, widowed and divorced women. Sources of retirement income, such as pension benefits, are often reduced when the husband dies. It’s important that couples have a retirement income plan in the event that one spouse passes away before the other. This is an area of knowledge and planning in which we help many of our clients.
The issue — and opportunity — of equal pay is a global one. A recent report from McKinsey Global Institute estimated that if all women worldwide were as engaged in the financial markets as men, up to $28 trillion could be added to the global economy by 2025.
This year’s World Economic Forum spotlighted this issue and featured speeches from highly visible and influential women in today’s culture: philanthropist Melinda Gates, Facebook Chief Operation Officer Sheryl Sandberg and popular actress Emma Watson — best known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films.
When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon in 1969, he delivered the now famous quote, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” With increased focus on equal pay, hopefully soon we will see economic benefits that are not only a step in the right direction for women, but a giant leap for all mankind.
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