Gender and Sexuality Column

How New York City is addressing the ‘Charging Bull’ of the workplace: the wage gap

New York City recently cashed in on a bold new method to combat the gender wage gap: prohibiting private and public employers from asking job candidates about their salary history.

Public advocate Letitia James introduced the legislation in August as a means of controlling the economic disparities between male and female workers, and the New York City Council passed the law earlier this month, just after Equal Pay Day. In a country that has celebrated Equal Pay Day for more than two decades without guaranteeing equal pay, the legislation has induced a collective sigh of relief among independent women.

Since the previous salary question is deeply rooted in the wage disparities between the United States’ gendered workforces, the city’s legislation is breaking through the chains that have bound women to diminished salary pay and increased sexism in the workforce.

The legislation is an echo of Wall Street’s “Fearless Girl” statue, which was built in March to stare down the “Charging Bull.” The statue has become a symbol of hope for young girls and women who have been barred from climbing the ladder of success by the glass ceiling firmly in place. Like the little, fearless girl, James’ legislation serves as a reminder that the competency — and compensation — of an employee should lie not in their gender, but in the skills they bring to the table.

Gretchen Purser, an assistant professor of sociology at Syracuse University, said the proposed legislation is an asset in the fight toward equal pay that government officials must continue to elaborate on. Purser added that while equal pay is a crucial component toward equivocating men and women in the workforce, employers need to do their part to ensure individuals aren’t being unjustly persecuted on the grounds of their gender.

“If we really want to eliminate the gender wage gap and bring about greater empowerment of workers, we also need to pass legislation to prohibit pay secrecy and prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for discussing compensation,” she said. “Without such transparency, companies can and will engage in discrimination.”

The new legislation is also a major win for women of color who have faced even greater pay disparities than their white counterparts.

A report from James’ office found the pay discrepancies between white women and white men equated to a white woman earning 84-cents to a white man’s dollar. But this percentage went down for women of color when compared to white men. Asian women earned 63-cents to a white man’s dollar, black women earned 55-cents and Hispanic and Latina women earned a mere 46 percent, according to Bloomberg, which published the results of the report.

The problem with the wage gap is greater than just gender. It is an intersection of race and ethnicity and gender that continually propagates racial disparities and disproportions in social and class standings. But this new legislation has the power to help close that gap.

James estimates the law could positively impact the lives of nearly four million workers once it extends the prohibition to private employers, according to the Washington Post. She told Time Magazine working women in New York City were cheated out of $5.8 billion in lost wages compared to their male peers.

New York City has been revered as a progressive powerhouse for democratic activism, and James’ proposed legislation is no exception. In the words of Fatima Goss Graves, president-elect of the National Women’s Law Center: “If a company changes its practices in New York, it is likely to also make changes around the country.”

And in the words of Destiny’s Child: All the honeys who making money, it’s time we get the bang for the buck we deserve.

Kelsey Thompson is a sophomore magazine journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at katho101@syr.edu.

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