Equal Pay Act Of 1963? We Are Going Backward

By Selena Templeton

In July of 2016, HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) published a study about the pay gap between male and female employees in the Health IT field. The results of the HIMSS Longitudinal Gender Compensation Assessment (2006 – 2015) showed that not only are women paid less than their male counterparts, but that the gap has gotten bigger over the years:

In 2006 women earned 80.7% of men’s wages, and in 2015 they earned just 78%.

What’s even more surprising is that the longer a woman holds a position in Health IT, the wider the pay gap gets  —  in 2015, that is. In 2006 the reverse was true: the more tenure a woman had, the smaller the pay gap became.

Image source:    HIMSS

Image source: HIMSS

Furthermore, this gender-based pay gap is worse the higher up the woman is in the organization, as evidenced in this chart:

Image source:    HIMSS

Image source: HIMSS

A difference in pay between men and women for doing the same job (when women were allowed to perform the same work, that is) has been a reality for as long as there have been paying jobs and across all industries. In 1963, President Kennedy signed The Equal Pay Act to ensure that discrimination of wages based solely on gender was eliminated. So why are we still dealing with wage discrimination?

Well, it turns out that gender discrimination cannot be done away with when the people writing the laws (or hiring the employees) are the ones who are enjoying gender privilege.

The Equal Pay Act states that:

(1) No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate...between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages...at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex...for equal work...which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.

Under the “Declaration of Purpose” section for this law, it states that when an industry engages in “wage differentials based on sex,” it “depresses...living standards for employees,” “prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources,” and “constitutes an unfair method of competition.”

This all sounds reasonable  —  until you get to the “Exemptions” section which states that the provisions of The Equal Pay Act don’t apply to these employees:

(1) any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity (including any employee employed in the capacity of academic administrative personnel or teacher in elementary or secondary schools)
(3) any employee employed by an establishment which is an amusement or recreational establishment, organized camp, or religious or non-profit educational conference center
(5) any employee employed in the catching, taking, propagating, harvesting, cultivating, or farming of any kind of fish, shellfish, crustacea, sponges, seaweeds, or other aquatic forms of animal and vegetable life
(8) any employee employed in connection with the publication of any weekly, semiweekly, or daily newspaper with a circulation of less than four thousand
(17) any employee who is a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, or other similarly skilled worker

Besides exempting basically all employees from The Equal Pay Act, number 17 explicitly states that women in tech (or related fields) do not necessarily need to be paid equally for the same work.

I doubt that any employer would wave this document around (or is even aware of it) to justify paying women less than men for the same job, but if this kind of discrimination is still on the law books, what does that say about our society? As discussed in Diversity. Walk the Talk, it’s not enough to pay lip service. Equality and diversity “ought to be the very foundation of any business — and not just articulated, but fully embodied in all areas from the words you use to the company culture you develop.”

According to executive vice president Carla Smith, HIMSS has launched various initiatives to help achieve the goal of wage equity, such as the Most Influential Women in Health IT Awards, a Women in Health IT Roundtable, and a Women in Health IT Networking Reception as part of its annual healthcare IT conference. These initiatives might help spotlight the problem, but are they doing anything to solve it?

For any lasting changes, we need to understand the cause of gender-based pay discrimination because, as Smith reminds us, “knowledge precedes improvement. As we better understand a complex issue, we are increasingly well-equipped to solve it.”

Some causes of gender-based pay inequality, according to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers Issue Brief (opens a PDF in a new window), may include:

  • The Gap from Occupation and Industry - More than 50% of women in a science-related career leave by mid-career, which is double the rate of men, and 40% report that the reason is a hostile or macho environment.
  • The Gap Due to Differences in Negotiations and Promotions - Women tend not to negotiate job offers nearly as much as men, and even when they do, they’re less likely to receive more than men.
  • The Role of Discrimination - Studies reveal that even when the resumes are identical except for the name, “gender affects whether the candidate is hired, the starting salary offered, and the employer’s overall assessment of the candidate’s quality.”         

So how do we eliminate this gender-based pay gap? We can:

  • Help women enter high-wage occupations.
  • Help girls enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers.
  • Address systemic discrimination, particularly in male-dominated fields.
  • Recognize gender stereotypes that reinforce notions of “appropriate” work for men and women.

We’d love to hear what are you or your organization doing to help solve this problem. If you have a personal story about any of these four recommendations, submit your article to us at: http://www.itsecurityplanet.com/experts-corner-submission