Closing the gender pay gap has become more difficult in recent years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately hit women – who have to balance work, childcare, elder care and other demands. And research shows that women of color have felt the greatest influence. Notably, today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day – the day that symbolizes how long black women have to work in the current year to earn what men worked the previous year. The deepening pay gap for 2022 is hopefully temporary as factors largely related to the pandemic have pushed many women out of the labor force or into part-time and seasonal jobs. But there are proactive steps employers can take to attract and retain women in the workplace and ensure more pay equity now and in the future. What can you do to promote pay equity and help close the gender pay gap?
Recognize the obstacles women face
By 2019, the US Census Bureau reported that the gender pay gap was narrowing, although disparities persisted. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, female labor force participation has fallen to a 35-year low in April 2020, according to the US Department of Labor (DOL). Additionally, unemployment rates have been consistently higher for Latina and black women than for white women throughout the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of August 2022, the unemployment rate was 2.8% for white women, 4.3% for Latina women, and 5.9% for black women.
“The nature of this national health crisis has forced widespread closures in industries such as leisure and hospitality and childcare; let students study remotely at home; and created sharp boundaries between essential work and remote work,” the DOL said.
DOL also found that the differences are even more significant for Black, Hispanic, and some subgroups of Asian American and native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women. “Workers of color too often suffer disproportionate harm in economic downturns and face overlapping discrimination and devaluation in the labor market that exacerbates existing vulnerabilities,” the DOL said.
In fact, Equal Pay Day for Black Women in 2022 falls seven weeks later than in 2021 and six months after National Equal Pay Day. Native Women’s Equal Pay Day and Latinas’ Equal Pay Day fall later in the year on November 30 and December 8, respectively.
Persistent disparities are likely because women, particularly women of color, are overrepresented in high-demand positions in industries like healthcare, hospitality and education — industries that have been hit hard during the pandemic. For example, a study published by Health Affairs found that black women are the most overrepresented demographic in healthcare, working primarily in the industry’s lowest-paying and most hazardous jobs.
In addition, the economic impact of inflation has left many women unable to find or pay for costly childcare, which likely keeps them out of the workforce. When women are inactive, the pay gap will widen further, making it imperative for employers to review whether their policies on working hours, paid time off and other practices are fair to women.
Carry out a wage equity check
You should note that almost every state in the country has passed legislation supplementing the federal Equal Pay Act, which mandates equal pay for equal work.
Federal law requires workers to be paid equally when they perform “substantially the same” work at the same “facility” in jobs that require the same skill, effort, and responsibility and are performed under similar working conditions. Equal pay includes all forms of compensation, including base salary or wages, overtime, bonuses, benefits and any other perks or compensation.
Notably, most states have equal pay laws that go further than federal law and may require equal pay for “substantially similar” work. In addition, some states — such as California, New York, and New Jersey — have enacted strict equal pay laws that cover all protected classes of workers, including race and ethnicity, in addition to gender. Other states — like Massachusetts, Colorado, and Oregon — have unique safe harbor regulations for employers who conduct pay equity audits. You can explore the equal pay laws in your jurisdiction through Fisher Phillips’ interactive equal pay map by simply clicking on each state.
You should be aware of the potentially significant financial consequences of equal pay claims Consider conducting a paycheck to determine which employees are doing comparable work, to ensure employees are paid fairly, and to determine whether your policies and practices comply with new laws.
However, before beginning this analysis, it is recommended that you work with an attorney so that the results of the audit are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Focus on DEI and flexibility
Now is a good time to take a look at yours Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. Employers who consider racial and gender diversity in their leadership teams and make a public commitment to support and advance women in the workplace are more likely to attract and retain women in their workforce. Other women will invariably look to these organizations as places where they are valued and empowered.
Flexibility is also important. While flexible working arrangements can take many forms, the most common being remote work. Remote working may not be practical for every job, but employers who offer flexible work arrangements are likely able to attract a broader and more diverse workforce that also includes women with competing commitments. In fact, recent data shows that more women have returned to the labor market in recent months due to the increase in flexible working arrangements.
Many jobs, particularly in healthcare and hospitality, require in-person work — but employers can still look for ways to offer flexibility through compressed work weeks, flexible hours, job-sharing programs, and other benefits.
provide employees with Education, training and advancement opportunities is also crucial for employee retention and closing the gender pay gap.
We will continue to monitor developments affecting gender pay equity in the workplace. Be sure to subscribe to the Fisher Phillips Insight System for the most up-to-date information. For more information, contact your Fisher Phillips attorney, the authors of this finding, or an attorney in our Equal Pay Practice Group.