New York, NY – Time piles up like snow on a windowsill, erasing the traces of what came before—and what we need to remember—our history! You can trace the roots of today’s news stories about pay equity between men and women back to the 1970s and the dramatic struggles that took place for gender equality. This July, The New York Times reported that 42 women at the British Broadcasting Corp., the top-paid anchors, journalists, and media personalities, sent an open letter to the BBC’s director general, demanding action to close the pay gap between men and women.
They learned about the gap due to a report on top salaries mandated by the government in the United Kingdom. Next year, large corporations in the UK must report on all salaries at large corporations, broken down by gender. This is essential information in eradicating the gap between male and female salaries. Prime Minister Theresa May weighed in on the dispute, calling on the BBC to pay men and women equally. The target date for pay equity set by the BBC management is 2020. In their open letter, the women noted that, “the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all go on the record to call on you to act now.”
Meanwhile, on Aug. 29, President Trump reversed an equal pay initiative from the Obama administration, which would require large companies to collect and report information on pay scales by gender and race, due to start later this year. The argument against the rule made by the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate allies, is that it presents “a burden” and a “huge headache” for corporations. This reversal places the burden of proof and remedy back on the individual woman. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, “women today are paid, on average, 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, while the gap is even wider for women of color. African-American women earn only 64 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents for each dollar earned by males.” One proven, effective remedy for unequal pay is the disclosure of pay information.
Another is organizing. Back in 1970, the women at Newsweek magazine began their fight for equal pay, along with access to jobs and promotions. Their story is captured in Lynn Povich’s book, The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace. Similarly, in 1972, women at The New York Times organized a Women’s Caucus, to fight for equal pay, access to jobs, and promotions for women across the board. Their story is told in Nan Robertson’s book, The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and The New York Times.
The story of the fight for equal pay and comparable worth in the U.S. is documented in Dorothy Sue Cobble’s book, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in America. Sarah Boston provides the British counterpart to the American struggles in Women Workers and the Trade Unions. A lively telling of an important piece of this story is the 2010 British movie, Made in Dagenham. Here we get to see a working-class woman—a trade unionist—slowly discovering her ability to inspire other women to stand up to injustice and eventually lead them to victory. The story is based on real events—a strike in 1968 by sewing machinists working for the Ford Motor Company at the River Plant in the UK that led to the passage of their Equal Pay Act in 1970.
It’s worth a trip to the library to educate ourselves about this fight for equality. Yes—the workplace has changed. But in some respects, it remains the same. The next Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Mark your calendars, women. This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. The annual event highlights the gap between men’s and women’s wages.