woman looking out over city

The Role of Business on Equal Pay Day

— Patrick Boardman, WE 

Today is Equal Pay Day 2016, and if you’re at all familiar with the topic, you’ve probably heard this U.S. Census stat before: “For every dollar men earn, women earn just 79 cents.” Today is a tongue-in-cheek celebration because if we use the 21 percent gap in pay equity, mid-April is the extra time it takes a full-time working woman to match what a man earned the previous year. Hardly a cause for celebration.

Many have tried to unpack the 79 cent figure and understand what makes the gap so stubborn. It’s true that adjusting for occupation, hours worked, experience level and other factors does impact the stats. Still, Equal Pay Day paints a useful, general picture and raises the question: How can socially innovative businesses rally to address the gap?

Gender parity is important to WE Communications: Our founders, Melissa Waggener Zorkin and Pam Edstrom, as well as many members of our strategic and creative leaders, are women who care deeply about equality. As a result we counsel our clients to think progressively, challenge the status quo and be a leader in social responsibility.

But so what? How can businesses help? Here are a few places to start:

  • Support equitable education. If we recognize that women are underrepresented in careers that would drive pay equity, one solution would be to remove barriers to entry in those professions. For STEM fields, programs such as US2020 match mentors with women who show interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through US2020, established professionals from companies including Microsoft (WE client), Alcoa and Cisco are stepping up to create the next generation of math whizzes. Through its foundation, Amgen (WE client) is supporting groups such as Techbridge that inspire girls to discover a passion for technology, science and engineering.
  • Get your house in order. Leaders such as Salesforce are auditing salary data to ensure equal pay is being observed across levels. Companies including REI are making public commitments to improve the ratio of women in leadership positions.
  • Activate your ambassadors. Successful brands have a sphere of influence that can be tapped for social good. Communications campaigns such as HeforShe from UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality, encourage followers to get involved by calling out gender-biased language, participating in anti-domestic violence programs and encouraging employers to select from a diverse pool of candidates.

The ICRW estimates that the pay gap won’t fully close until 2059. Barring the passage of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, businesses will need to continue to take voluntary stands to move the needle. It’s a complex issue that requires smart partnership across sectors. Will you and your organization be a leader on this Equal Pay Day? You can start by following and participating in the conversation online, tagging #EqualPayDay on your social network of choice.