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Women earn just 78 percent what men make in America.

Thanks in large part to actress Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech on the matter, that gap is now likely to figure into the 2016 presidential campaign.

On Thursday, Carly Fiorina emerged victorious from a debate featuring slightly less prominent candidates, according to The Hill, thanks to a choice shot at Donald Trump and demonstrating a surprising command of foreign policy despite her main experience running Hewlett Packard.

Though she (nor any of the other candidates) was not asked about the gender-pay gap, as a woman and former CEO, it is almost certain to come up if she advances and ends up squaring off against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

After all, they would be the two individuals in the nominee field who could bring the most authority to the topic.


Here is what we know so far about how Fiorina sees the issue.

In comments made in April in Iowa, she said the problem stemmed from businesses placing too much emphasis on seniority and not meritocracy.

“Anyone who wants to harness the full power of human potential, of both men and women, needs to focus on building a meritocracy,” she said at the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference at the DoubleTree hotel according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette's B.A. Morelli.


She continued:

If you focus on a pay for performance system — a true meritocracy where people are recognized, paid and promoted, not on how long they’ve been there, but what they produced — women will rise to the top — not because women are better than men, but because they have half the human potential.

Fiorina is right, in a sense, that age plays a huge role in the gender-pay gap: Numerous studies show the gap widens as employees get further into their career.


But Harvard professor Claudia Goldin, an expert on the problem of women's pay, has written that this is not the result of a lack of emphasis on performance.

In fact, she wrote in her 2014 paper on the subject, "The gap is much lower than it had once been and the decline has been largely due to an increase in the productive human capital of women relative to men."

Instead, Goldin says, women are paid less because they work different hours than men, for a variety of reasons, including childrearing and the average hours worked in industries that tend to have more men than women. One solution is to therefore make earnings less dependent on the cost of not working a consecutive set of hours, and more dependent on working a set of overall hours.


On her website, Hillary Clinton addresses this, calling for "workplace policies like paid leave and flexible scheduling that allow parents to take care of their obligations at home without sacrificing pay at work."

Clinton also put forward some more specific proposal that address what other experts have said about what is causing the gap. Here's how she put it in an interview with Glamour Magazine:

1. Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act: The legislation "gives women the legal tools we need to fight discrimination at work."

2. Promote pay transparency: "You can’t stand up for equal pay if you don’t know whether you're paid equally," Clinton said. "You remember the Lilly Ledbetter case—she didn't know for the longest [time] that she wasn't being paid the same as her male coworkers doing the same jobs. Postings for new jobs or promotions should come with salary ranges. Large companies should report on how fairly, or not, they're compensating workers, male or female."

3. Raise wages for the lowest-paid jobs: These jobs are "disproportionately held by women, especially women of color," Clinton said. "We need to make it easier for more women to enter higher paying fields like science and engineering and technology….In most states today, waitresses, bartenders, hairstylists, and others who rely on tips are paid even lower than minimum wage."


If Fiorina indeed ends up on the ticket, and presuming Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, this is what you can expect on an issue they are more qualified than anyone to discuss.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.