Oscar-award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence has been making headlines lately, but not because she is promoting an upcoming film. Lawrence recently penned an honest, frank letter on her personal experience with the wage gap in Hollywood. Her realization that she has been paid significantly less than her male peers despite performing the exact same work is a story that I and women in all industries can relate to.
Unfortunately, even in 2015 when women make up nearly half of the workforce, too many don’t earn equal pay for equal work. In fact, women, on average, who work full-time earn a mere 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male co-workers. Over the years, 22 cents lost on every potential dollar earned means women have less to spend on everyday needs for themselves and their families and far less savings for retirement.
The labor movement represents 7 million women members and views the fight for equality as an important cause for all working families. Wage inequality is an issue that impacts our entire economy, not just women who are systemically shortchanged on the job. Jennifer Lawrence is a union member and is lucky enough to be protected by a union contract. But not all working women are so fortunate.
The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of wage gap among nonunion workers. To narrow the wage gap between themselves and their male co-workers, working women must have the ability to negotiate effectively on their own behalf and that ability is given to union women in the form of a union contract. For many women, however, negotiating for higher pay is not always easy.
Women can find the process of negotiating a higher salary intimidating, especially considering that the majority of workplace bosses tend to be men. And while fashion magazines frequently offer tips and tricks on how to beat the gender pay gap, advice from your local corner newsstand doesn’t necessarily resonate with every working woman.
The fact is that many women, like the renowned Lilly Ledbetter, don’t even know when they are being taken advantage of by their employer and the entire process can seem overwhelmingly daunting. Ledbetter worked for nearly two decades at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and only discovered she was being drastically underpaid when an anonymous male co-worker slipped her a note. Not every woman gets so lucky.
Negotiating is a big part of working women’s path toward achieving economic security. Knowing what we want, determining fair ground rules and then hashing it out on a level playing field is how women move forward in the workplace. Union women like Jennifer Lawrence know they have the power to change the entrenched system of unfair pay by joining together and demanding fair wages and equal pay for equal work. These things are accessible and available to working women all across the country, both union and nonunion, but only if they stand together and negotiate for them.
Whether you are a famous actress in Hollywood or a teacher in a small town, receiving less pay than a male co-worker simply because of gender is never right. By joining together and negotiating for higher wages, working women can begin to conquer the pay gap.