The Obama administration announced Friday an executive action to require companies with more than 100 employees to report salary information by race, gender, and ethnicity. The change is supposed to give the government more leverage to crack down on companies that engage in discriminatory pay practices and encourage them, by virtue of the fact that they're being monitored, to police themselves to correct existing disparities. (This latter point feels a little dubious to me, but whatever.)
"More than 50 years after pay discrimination became illegal it remains a persistent problem for too many Americans," Jenny Yang, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a statement. "Collecting pay data is a significant step forward in addressing discriminatory pay practices. This information will assist employers in evaluating their pay practices to prevent pay discrimination and strengthen enforcement of our federal anti-discrimination laws."
Yang elaborated to The New York Times: “Too often, pay discrimination goes undetected because of a lack of accurate information about what people are paid. We will be using the information that we’re collecting as one piece of information that can inform our investigations.”
Women in the United States make, on average, 79% of what men earn. The wage gap is considerably worse for women of color: black women earn just 64% of a man's dollar. For Latinas, it's 54%. And according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pay disparities between men and women exist in all but seven of the Bureau’s 600 listed occupations.
The announcement comes on the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law. The law, which extends the statute of limitations for filing pay discrimination lawsuits, was named for Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant who found out through an anonymous note that her male colleagues had been making substantially more than her for decades.
That note was a violation of the company’s policy barring employees from sharing salary information. Obama's new requirements, by compelling companies to report pay data and essentially air their dirty laundry, could help to ensure that it isn't just on employees to figure out when they're being fucked over by their bosses.
Because, as Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a statement: "We can't know what we don't know." Without pay data, the government agencies tasked with investigating pay discrimination can't "deliver on the promise" of equal pay.
"We expect that reporting this data will help employers to evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces," Perez said. "The data collection also gives the Labor Department a more powerful tool to do its enforcement work, to ensure that federal contractors comply with fair pay laws and to root out discrimination where it does exist."
And in the meantime, if you're trying to figure out how to combat pay secrecy by doing a little recon or solidarity-building with your own coworkers, we've got some suggestions about how to do that without freaking people out.