Apr 09 2014
Like most women, I don’t like being typecast or marginalized because of my gender. I also tire of being told what issues – “women’s issues” – I should care about.
Both political parties have spent considerable capital exploring “what women want.” I think it’s pretty simple: Women (and men, for that matter) want security.
Women want economic security, the confidence that the next generation will be better off than the last. For the first time in a long time, it’s no longer a given.
Women want health-care security, the comfort that comes with finally finding a doctor we like with insurance we can afford for our whole family.
Women want job security, a consistent, fair salary, decent benefits, a workable retirement plan and the ability to negotiate modern workplace flexibility through job sharing, telecommuting and compensatory time.
Both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – both of which congressional Republicans were instrumental in passing – have dramatically increased career opportunities for women and ensure they receive equal pay for equal work – a principle I strongly support.
Today, women have an extraordinarily positive story to tell. Women now hold more than half of all managerial and professional jobs – more than double the number of women in 1980 – and women comprise the majority in the five fastest growing job fields. According to the Department of Education, women receive 57 percent of all college degrees, 33 percent more than in 1970.
Much has been made recently of the difference in men and women’s average salaries. I believe – and reports prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor confirm – that commonly used “wage gap” statistics don’t tell the full story. Factors including differences in occupation, education, fields of study, type of work, hours worked and other personal choices shape career paths and earning potential. Moreover, salaries alone don’t account for total compensation.
Still, some women continue to struggle with gender-based pay discrimination, directly impacting a woman’s livelihood, financial future and her job security.
With more than half of women working as primary breadwinners, lost wages detrimentally impact families as well as single women. Studies suggest women also control 73 percent of consumer spending; less take-home pay for women means less money spent in the marketplace. Deterring women from fully participating in the workforce is bad for the economy, it is bad for our country and it is contrary to our basic values.
Republicans fully agree that gender-based pay discrimination in the modern workplace is unacceptable – we just have different ideas from some of our colleagues about how to best combat it. The prevailing concern among women with wage discrimination indicates there is more work to do. That’s why I joined with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to offer a proposal to modernize key portions of the 51-year-old Equal Pay Act.
Our plan protects employees. It stops employers from punishing or retaliating against employees for discussing their salaries with one another. It also reinforces employers’ obligations to fully apprise employees of their rights regarding pay discrimination. Knowledge is power, and our bill equips women who might otherwise be unaware of their ability to recover lost wages.
It also addresses the opportunity gap by consolidating a number of duplicative programs and uses existing funding to create a grant program that would provide training to men and women in underrepresented sectors of the economy. The program would allow businesses to partner with state workforce agencies to train individuals to fill available jobs.
Persistent economic uncertainty hurts women, slims their paychecks and limits their career prospects. Jobs data for March shows the unemployment rate increased to nearly 13 percent for young women ages 16 to 24. And women, who spend two out of every three health-care dollars, are also struggling as misled consumers in an increasingly confusing health-care marketplace.
As a woman and as a lawmaker, I believe our proposal to directly address discrimination in the workplace is a reasonable, fact-based approach. More government and more lawyers will not lead to more pay for women. But we shouldn’t stop there. Women want good jobs with more take-home pay; that means actual economic growth, more job opportunities and a consumer-friendly health-care system. And finally, women want the peace of mind that government will stop making life more complicated. They have enough to worry about.