Equal Pay Day 2011: Wal-Mart’s Female Employees Are Not Alone

Our guest bloggers are Heather Boushey, Senior Economist, and Danielle Lazarowitz, Special Assistant for the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Equal Pay Day comes but once a year. It’s the day that marks how many weeks into 2011 the typical woman worker needed to toil after 2010 ended to earn what her male colleagues earned in 2010 alone. On average last year, women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Women are paid less than men in no small part because they are promoted less. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal highlighted a new McKinsey report that highlighted the consequences of a leaky talent pipeline for women. More than half of business’ new hires are women (53 percent) and yet very few reach the top of the corporate ladder. Only a quarter of vice-presidents (26 percent) and a seventh (14 percent) of senior executives are women.

And, this glass ceiling is not just at the very top of America’s corporations, it’s also a story that’s all too familiar to Betty Dukes and the women of Wal-Mart. In 2001, Betty Dukes and five additional plaintiffs filed a case against their employer, Wal-Mart, on behalf of 1.5 million female employees, alleging that they were denied promotions and equal pay. Stephanie Odle, one of the plaintiffs, explains it this way: “The promotions I should have had, the jobs I should have had, were given to men.”

When statisticians looked into what was going on at Wal-Mart, they saw a disturbing pattern: It took longer for women to be promoted up to a managerial position than men. At Wal-Mart, men reached managerial positions in less than 3 years while it took women almost four and a half years. Women made up only 10.3 percent of Regional Vice Presidents and earned 67 percent of their male counterparts’ salary. Sadly, what happens at Wal-Mart isn’t unique. Currently, the Supreme Court is considering whether women at Wal-Mart can file the largest class action suit in U.S. history.

But, if it wanted to, Congress could do something right now about the glass ceiling. This past November the Senate decided along party lines that the Paycheck Fairness Act was not even worth a vote. This important legislative measure would have prohibited employer retaliation against employee wage practice inquires; increased penalties for equal pay violations, and clarified acceptable reasons for differences in pay. Conservatives claimed that wage discrimination did not exist, making the bill unnecessary. Yet the stories of women like Lilly Ledbetter, Betty Dukes, and millions of other womenc exemplify why those claims are false.


The Center for American Progress Action Fund and the American Association of University Women teamed up to hold a flash mob for equal pay in front of the Lincoln Memorial:

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