The wage gap is not (just) your mama’s problem | Opinion | Chicago Reader

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The wage gap is not (just) your mama’s problem

And a new law in Illinois is part of the solution.

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Sharmili Majmudar - COURTESY WOMEN EMPLOYED
  • Courtesy Women Employed
  • Sharmili Majmudar

Sharmili Majmudar is the executive vice president of Policy and Organizational Impact for Women Employed, an organization that pursues equity for women in the workforce by effecting policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces so that all women, families, and communities thrive.

If you're on the job market in Illinois, you have a new tool at your disposal to make sure you're being paid fairly. On September 29, the No Salary History law went into effect, and it prohibits employers from asking job applicants for information about their current or past earnings. It also bans companies from seeking that information from your current or past employers.

You may wonder why that's such a big deal. If you've applied for jobs before, you probably know it's a common practice. And hey, doesn't it mean you'll probably make more in your new job than you did in your old one?

Maybe. But it might also mean you'll make less than you should. That's because if you've been paid too little in one job, questions about your past salary when you're applying for new jobs can allow that unfair wage to follow you to your new job. And your next job after that. And every future job you have.

It happens all the time—and it's a major reason that, even though we've made progress since your mom entered the workforce a generation ago, the gap between what women and men make, across the board, is definitely not closing fast enough. And while that gap gets wider for women as they age, it is not (just) your mama's problem.

A 2012 study by the American Association of University Women found that just one year out of college, a woman earns about 7 percent less than a man who had the same major and is working the same number of hours, in the same field, with the same occupation. So it matters even for the women who are just starting careers, raised in a time when we've been told the doors are open to us in every career and every type of job.

And though the gap starts small, over a career it widens into a gulf, compounding over time into hundreds of thousands of lost dollars. And because of the dual impacts of gender and racial bias, Black and Brown women experience even wider inequities. Some women can lose more than $1 million to the wage gap during their careers! That makes it harder for us to pay down our debts, to buy cars and houses, to raise kids, and to save for retirement. It limits the choices we can make. It can even have lifelong impacts on our children. It's not just a gap in terms of what we're paid today, it contributes to the wealth gap that impacts generation after generation.

But we are not powerless. Working together, we can change systems. We can advance equity. The new No Salary History law is one example.

My organization—Women Employed—has been opening doors for working women and removing barriers to equity since 1973. We worked hard to make No Salary History the law of the land in Illinois—joining with our partners and lawmakers to draft the bill, mobilizing thousands to educate their networks and influence their elected officials, and rallying bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly not once, but THREE times, persisting even when our former governor vetoed the bill twice. We are thrilled that Governor Pritzker signed the bill into law on July 31 of this year, and we were proud to stand alongside him as he did it.

And we want to work just as hard to make sure you know about your new rights. So we've put together a tool kit with all the information you need to know about the new No Salary History law, including what you can do if you still get asked about your past wages when applying for a job. This tool kit has information that's just as important to share as any interview tips you give your friends as they're pursuing that job you're cheering them on for.

This new law is an important step toward gender equity because it will disrupt a common practice that perpetuates the wage gap. No Salary History makes it much more likely that you'll be paid based upon your skills, your experience, and the requirements of the job—and not based on what you made in some past job.

But we know that this law alone won't eliminate the wage gap—and there's still so much more to be done to truly ensure equity in the workplace—and beyond. So we've also written a guide on how you can be an advocate for gender equity in your community, your workplace, and with your elected officials. Because we have to be relentless in demanding what is fair and right—and your voice is what propels change.

One easy step you can take is to get involved with Women Employed. Subscribe to our e-mails. Take action on issues that matter. Volunteer. Join us at an event. Together, we can create the fair, inclusive, just workplaces we deserve and build a better future for ourselves, and for those still dreaming about what they want to do when they grow up.   v

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