With the Paycheck Fairness Act, aimed at reducing the income inequalities between men and women in the United States, falling six votes short of passage through the U.S. Senate last month, gender inequality in the workplace will likely remain a hot topic for November’s elections.
In Wisconsin, on average a woman working full-time is paid $36,535 per year while men’s annual income sits at an average of $46,898 – that is 78 cents to every dollar, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Despite these disparities, the gender pay gap is not necessarily due to direct workforce discrimination, but is caused by a variety of other factors more deeply rooted in society, Laura Dresser, associate director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, said.
“Overall the gender gap is measuring a variety of things,” Dresser said.
Dresser said the main factors playing against women are more complicated than direct workforce discrimination, although discrimination is still prevalent. Women in general tend to move into careers that pay less than careers men pursue, she said. Women also tend to significantly reduce work hours upon having children, which negatively affects their work profile when returning to the workforce, she said.
Dresser said women tend not to push their managers for raises or advancement in the workplace because of its social climate. Men, who are often in executive positions in business, have more socially acceptable opportunities to interact with other men outside of the workplace, like playing golf, which leads to pay raises and leadership positions, she said.
“Women don’t negotiate for themselves as hard as men do in terms of wages at the start of a job. They tend not to negotiate as hard for themselves for advancements in jobs,” Dresser said. “Women don’t ask, and so managers don’t respond.”
Many women also do not have access to information on how much they are being paid in comparison to their male co-workers, making it hard to pinpoint wage discrimination, she said.
In 2012, Republican lawmakers repealed a law passed during Democratic control of the Legislature, which took away discriminated workers’ right to sue their employers for compensatory and punitive damages, Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said.
Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans supported this measure in order to alleviate pressure on businesses by reducing unnecessary lawsuits, which they have said is a drag on the economy. They said workers who felt discriminated against could go to the state labor agency to outline their complaints.
“In the past, lawyers could clog up the legal system,” Walker told WLUK-TV following the repeal. “Instead, the state Department of Workforce Development gets to be the one that ultimately can put people back and give them up to two years back pay if there is reason to believe there was pay discrimination in the workforce.”
With election day approaching, organizations like the League of Women Voters are organizing initiatives to inform women voters on the causes for unequal pay, pushing for a greater awareness of the issue, Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters, said.
“Voting is your big opportunity to address inequity, we’re all guaranteed one vote,” Kaminski said. “I do hope that women keep that in mind when they go to the polls.”