5 Things You Can Do Today for Equal Pay

This was in my Twitter feed today to remind me it’s Equal Pay Day:

I don’t know about you, but I’m sooo tired of hearing that same statistic over and over in the annual communal outcry about the lack of equal pay.

So being a practical activist, I put together these five things you and I can do today to bring about equal pay.

Continue reading “5 Things You Can Do Today for Equal Pay”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

The Young Politica: The Gender Gap’s Seven Percent

In a recent Forbes.com article, Meghan Casserly delved into the details of a recent study by the American Association of University of Women.

The study, which I covered briefly in an earlier column attempts to single out factors that may contribute to the wage gap (including the number of hours worked and the college major chosen).

It turns out that even after AAUW factored in choices that may have affected women’s pay, women still earn seven percent less than men counterparts one year after college. This, in turn, affects their financial ‘health’ for the rest of their lives. I spoke to Catherine Hill, the director of research for AAUW, about the study and the wage gap and this ever-present seven percent:

Maegan Vazquez: What are the main findings of the report?

Catherine Hill: There are three main findings from this report. First, the pay gap between men and women begins right after graduations.  That gap is partly explained by differences in men’s and women’s choices, but even after controlling for all of the factors known to affect earnings, a pay gap remains, just one year after graduation.

The second finding of the report is that the pay gap is not just a  matter of different choices—women who map the same choice as men will not earn as much. Some part of the pay gap is a result of choices, but not all of it.

The third finding is that, because of this pay gap, female college graduates are more likely to find that student loan payments take up more than 15 percent of their paychecks after graduation. the impact of the pay gap is immediate and significant.

MV: What makes this report so different from other wage gap studies?

CH: Our study is unusual in that it focus on a population that is fairly homogeneous: college graduates in the first year after graduations.  This group tends to be young (23 on average) and have not yet started families. We do a regression analysis to try to account for all factors that affect earnings, getting as close to an apple to apple comparison as possible.

MV: What’s the most surprising thing researchers found in this study?

CH: It is surprising to me that the pay gap begins right out of college, even among men and women majoring in the same field.

MV: Can you tell me a little bit more about what the unaccounted seven percent gap is comprised of?

CH: The seven percent gap is the remainder after accounting for many factors known to affect earnings. It is actually a 6.6 percent gap and we rounded the number to 7.  Negotiation is often thought to explain some of the unexplained part of the gap.  Attitudes and bias may also play a part.

MV: How do we remedy the gap? Has there been/will there be progress to shorten the gap?

CH: The paycheck fairness act could go along way toward ending discrimination in the workplace.

There you have it: even after an apples to apples comparison, women are earning less than men. Now that we have more information to back claims made for the past 20 years, we have even more reason to take action.

You can watch the entire press conference webcast here. http://www.aauw.org/GraduatetoaPayGap/WatchParty.cfm

Maegan Vazquez, a Texas born sophomore at New York University, brings her young woman’s lens on all things political to Heartfeldt Blog every Monday. Send news tips to maeganvaz@gmail.com

The Young Politica: The Wage Gap Starts Soon After You Receive Your Diploma

For many college-aged readers, loans are the reason we get the opportunity to get to college. We spend thousands of dollars in virtual money to get an education in the hopes that it will begin to pay off as soon as we get a job. Yet, despite the fact that we advance in our career fields, it seems like women’s investments aren’t paying off as quickly as our male counterparts.

A recent report released by the American Association of University Women, Graduating to Pay a Gap, found that the pay gap persists and even begins soon after graduation

—“women one year out of college who were working full-time earned, on average, just 82 percent of what their male peers earned.”

It is important to note that even after variances like college majors, number of hours worked, and career industries were accounted for, women still earned less than men. One third of the gap cannot be explained by differences in education or unemployment, according to AAUW.

AAUW says gender discrimination is part of the reason for this wage gap. The organization also points to the decisions women make in their careers.

As NPR reports, men are four times more likely to ask for a raise. The study also reported that many women are perceived as more aggressive than men when asking for the same raise. Perhaps it’s due to the general perception of women in the workplace. Perhaps it’s women’s general lack of negotiation skills. Or perhaps, as this UC Berkley study suggests, women should revert to antiquated gender norms and flirt their way to the top.

The latter study, I hope, should become a thing of the past, if we follow a few of AAUW’s recommendations. The report has quite a few suggestions to help close the wage gap. Some significant recommendations for high school and college students include considering future earnings when choosing a major and educating yourself about loans before getting them.

For recent college graduates, the report suggests considering future earnings when choosing a job to pursue, consider joining a union, and knowing what your skills are worth in the job market. Lastly, the report calls policy makers to action—asking for the protection of Pell grants and for Congress to increase the standards of federal equal pay laws.

All of these recommendations are steps in the right direction. They are infrastructural building blocks aimed at providing solutions. It makes more sense than anything we have tried to use to close the wage gap. Now, it seems, we have a grasp on change’s functionality. However, AAUW cannot force the change. Readers and policymakers must embrace it.

Whether you’re a first generation college student or you’re part of a legacy set to go to an Ivy, be aware the wage gap follows you straight after graduation.  As AAUW’s study found, even just a year after college—when both men and women are equally educated and have the same amount of work experience—the wage gap impedes on women’s efforts towards equality.

This pay difference is not blatantly clear, nor does it apply equally to every woman. However, as this study shows, it affects you sooner than you think.

Educate yourselves, Young Politicas!

Maegan Vazquez, a Texas born sophomore at New York University, brings her young woman’s lens on all things political to Heartfeldt Blog every Monday. Send news tips to maeganvaz@gmail.com

Equal Pay Day 2011: Are Republicans in Congress Trying to Make Women “Barefoot and Pregnant” Again?

Check out the fair pay flash mob on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) who were lobbying to improve educational opportunities. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. “And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”

Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? Not so much, though.

Fast forward please to April 11, 2011—the day designated as Equal Pay Day by the National committee on Pay Equity to call attention to the pay gap between men and women. Women currently make about 20% less than men even when the numbers are controlled for education and experience. In other words, the pay disparity does not stem from childbearing as is often assumed, but rather from deeper systemic biases that are reflected in women’s own lack of skills and confidence in negotiating for their pay and promotions. Continue reading “Equal Pay Day 2011: Are Republicans in Congress Trying to Make Women “Barefoot and Pregnant” Again?”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

See Red, Be Red for Equal Pay Day, Today

My red shoes

Red happens to be my favorite color. I’m an Aries after all. A classic one according to my sister (maybe that wasn’t meant as a compliment? Pioneering, passionate courageous, dynamic they say, but also selfish, impulsive, impatient, foolhardy.). Even my planet, Mars, named for the god of war, is red.

So I laughed when tweets from AAUW and National Women’s Law Center (NLRC), two organizations that have been pushing for the Paycheck Fairness Act and have declared this Blogging for Fair Pay Day, told me to wear red today.

No problem. I’ll just close my eyes and pull something out of my closet. It’ll more than likely be red.

There are many fabulous people blogging today about the fact that women make on average 78 cents to every $1 earned by a man, and women of color earn even less: African-American women earn 62¢, Latinas earn 53¢ for $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men. NLRC can tell you how the comparison shakes down in your state.

Rather than write a long diatribe, I want to link Heartfeldt readers to some sources I’ve found particularly compelling or useful.

I’ve often said that equal pay should be considered part of the stimulus package. Liz O’Donnell’s op ed in the Tucson Citizen explains how the economics work:

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that when American families are struggling, consumer spending goes down. And consumer spending accounts for approximately 70 percent of total economic activity. Even the best laid stimulus plan is at risk unless we right the gender inequities in the workplace.

Closing the wage gap and promoting women in the workplace has to be part of the package if we are going to revive our economy.

Feminist Peace Network continues its “Girl’s Guide to the Economy” series with this argument for we should get the additional 22 cents. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research compares pay by profession.

If you twitter, you can go here to read all the #fairpay tweets.

And Change.org gives you all the goods on the history of women’s pay progress–and there has been much progress, thanks to much hard work by women and men who have a sense of fairness and equality.

But still, good grief, what makes me really see red is that in 2009, we are still fighting to pass a piece of legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.182), that is nothing more than simple justice, and asks companies to do nothing more than to be fair to all employees regardless of gender.

So right now, while you are all hot and bothered about it, go here to send a message to your senator, or call him/her at 202-224-3121 and voice your support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill has already passed the house, so we’re within shouting distance (hey, maybe Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic party today will put them over the top!)

Wearing red to highlight the need for equal pay shouldn’t be necessary. Equal pay should just BE. But till it is, please see red and be red with passion for equal pay.

Let’s see, which of my 10 red tops shall I wear tomorrow?

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

The Value of Work Deja Vu All Over Again

There has been a marked change in the estimate of [women’s] position as wealth producers. We have never been “supported” by men; for if all men labored hard every hour of the twenty-four, they could not do all the work of the world. A few worthless women there are, but even they are not so much supported by the men of their family as by the overwork of the “sweated” women at the other end of the social ladder. From creation’s dawn. our sex has done its full share of the world’s work; sometimes we have been paid for it, but oftener not.

Any idea when this statement was made? OK, a clue: I recently ran across it in a speech given by Harriot Stanton Blatch at a suffragist convention–in 1898.

Blatch went on to raise issues much like what Ai-Jen Poo said at the “Unfinished Business” program 111 years later,  what Moms Rising has organized itself to organize the troops about now, and what dozens if not hundreds of bloggers will be talking about this weekend over at Fem 2.0:

Unpaid work never commands respect; it is the paid worker who has brought to the public mind conviction of woman’s worth…If we would recognize the democratic side of our cause, and make an organized appeal to industrial women on the ground of their need of citizenship, and to the nation on the ground of its need that all wealth producers should form part of its body politic, the close of the century might witness the building up of a true republic in the United States.

Yep, don’t agonize: organize. Band together to make the workplace and worklife such that people of both genders can both earn a living and have a life. This is the necessary next wave of the feminist movement, one in which both men and women must participate. Because these days, men want to participate in their children’s lives as women have always done. Family-friendly policies benefit everyone. But many if not most men are afraid to take paternity leave or a sick day to take care of an ailing child. And those not in paid employment, as well as the growing number of freelancers and caregiving workers, often have no health care benefits or paid sick days.

As the workplace moves ever closer to gender parity because employers need the skills of both men and women; as the ailing economy moves ever closer to one in which both partners must work outside the home to make ends meet, and as the cultural power balance between partners becomes increasingly equalized because of growing parity in income generation, the work that both do at the office or at home–or in someone else’s home–must be valued and supported accordingly.

Let’s not still be having this debate another 100 years hence. Check out the campaigns over at MomsRising.com to find out how you can help make the needed changes.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Goodyear, You Can Spare $360K for Lilly Ledbetter?

You know how I like to ask “so what are you going to do about it?” Well, here’s a great example, courtesy of blogger Joanne Cronrath Bamberger, aka PunditMom. She has graciously allowed me to crosspost her commentary from Huffington Post. For those of us who feel justice requires that Lilly Ledbetter receive compensation for her heroic efforts on behalf of all women’s paycheck equality, Joanne provides an easy way to communicate to Lilly’s former employer, Goodyear Rubber and Tire, and urge them to make good on the pay they in effect robbed her of over the years. Here you go, and don’t forget to drop your note to Goodyear:

As so many women have been basking in the glow of the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the news reports reminded us that even though Lilly has become a standard bearer for the fight for fair pay for women, Lilly herself will never see a nickel of the money that she sued Goodyear Rubber and Tire for.

The Ledbetter law overturned the Supreme Court decision denying Lilly the $360,000+ of back pay and benefits that the trial court had ruled she was entitled to, but the newly signed law isn’t retroactive; it only applies to cases going forward. So the 70-year-old, recently widowed Ledbetter, who worked in a tire factory for almost 20 years to support her family, only gets the psychic benefit of knowing she was able to help other women. Hopefully.

But here’s the thing — the appeals court rulings that denied Lilly her back pay were based on a now invalid argument. So, technically, the factual finding by the trial court that Goodyear discriminated against Ledbetter would stand today. Goodyear is steadfast that it didn’t do anything wrong, according to a statement Goodyear released following the Ledbetter signing ceremony, making the corporation sound like the victim, not Lilly.

While Goodyear likes to focus on the Supreme Court’s decision that it didn’t have to pay anything because Lilly didn’t file her case under a tortured reading of the existing statute of limitations, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up what was really going on in her dissent. Ginsburg, as the lone woman on the court, reminded us of “the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

“The Court … overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter’s case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials. Small initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves.”

It’s really been bothering me that a corporation like Goodyear that reported profits of $602 million in 2007 (its most current annual SEC filing) most likely spent much more on attorneys’ fees than the $360K it could have paid Lilly, trying to convince us it didn’t practice gender discrimination. According to its 2007 annual report, Goodyear did, however, pay millions to settle other types of lawsuits. So I thought, wouldn’t it be refreshing if Goodyear would do the right thing and pay Lilly Ledbetter the back wages it should have paid her in the first place?
If we really want to honor Lilly and what she did for us and for our daughters (and our sons — they’ll benefit from this, as well), I say we should all call on Goodyear to pay Lilly what it should have paid her to begin with. You don’t even need an envelope or stamp. Here’s a link to the Goodyear site with the names and online form to contact Goodyear’s Global and Corporate Communications honchos.

Here’s a short letter you can feel free to use:

Dear Goodyear:

Now that President Obama has reversed the Supreme Court decision that denied Lilly Ledbetter her $360,000 in back pay, we call on you to do the right thing and pay Lilly what she should have been paid over the course of 20 years. While the new Ledbetter Law is not retroactive, think about all the public goodwill Goodyear would receive in these tough economic times if it stepped up and did the right thing by Lilly.

Sincerely yours,

I know it’s a long shot, but sometimes a little shame can go a long way. And given what Lilly did for us, I figured it’s the least we can try to do for her.

Joanne Bamberger is a professional writer, political analyst and social media consultant in Washington, D.C. She is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom, and is a Contributing Editor for News and Politics at BlogHer.

Trading in “Barefoot and Pregnant” for Economic and Reproductive Justice

As Congress works through the economic stimulus package, representatives need to keep in mind the connection between a woman’s need to determine her reproductive life and her ability to benefit from and contribute to economic recovery and growth. (This is an exclusive commentary I wrote for the Women’s Media Center.)

Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women lobbying to improve educational opportunities for African Americans. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. “And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”

Fast forward to January 2009. The relevance of barefoot and pregnant remains central to an inclusive and just America. Economic parity and reproductive justice are still intertwined, not only in the lives of individual women; they are indivisibly connected to our economic recovery as well.

While the 111th Congress awaits President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration for action on his proposed $775-billion stimulus plan, it’s considering two important pieces of legislation not included in the recovery package. Each is treated in isolation as “women’s issues.” Yet both are integral to the success of Obama’s economic stimulus.

The Prevention First Act, sponsored by Representative Louise Slaughter and others to expand access to family planning and reproductive health care, was introduced January 13 to virtually no fanfare and little media coverage. Two gender pay equity bills—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act—passed the House of Representatives with a bit more hoopla a few days earlier. Here’s how they work together and with the economic recovery.

If a woman is to control anything in her life, she must first be able to control her own fertility—to decide whether, with whom, and when she will have sex, become pregnant, and bear a child. A Catholic priest first made the connection for me between economic and reproductive justice in three short sentences I’ll never forget: “The people in my parish are poor,” he said. “Who am I to tell them they should have a baby every year? I can’t feed or clothe their children for them.”

It was 1969, just a few years after Senator Van Dalsem uttered his famous phrase; I was teaching kindergartners in the Head Start program housed at the priest’s church. Since I wasn’t Catholic, I didn’t know how radical it was for a priest to advocate for birth control. I did know that when I got the birth control pill, I had been able to start college, decide that the three children I had were wonderful but enough already, and consider career possibilities. My job with Head Start didn’t pay much but it moved my family a step beyond paycheck-to-paycheck.

If a woman can’t decide when to have a child, she can’t reliably enter the workforce to earn income for her family’s support, and she can’t contribute her skills to economic growth. That simple equation remains today, exacerbated by our economy’s slide into deep recession.

Conversely, economic power inherently gives women greater power within the family and in society. Virginia Woolf wrote that when her Aunt Mary bequeathed her 500 pounds a year, she found financial independence of more value than even the right to vote. She felt freed from slavery, because she “need not flatter any man” in order to have food, clothing, and shelter.

A woman needs economic equality to freely and successfully make her own choices about sex, pregnancy, and childbearing. As recent news stories of women selling their eggs and use of their wombs have poignantly illustrated, a tough economy can prevent people from having children they desperately want, or push them to use their reproductive capacities for economic necessity. In a New York Times Magazine story, for example, a woman who served as a surrogate was doing so to help pay for her daughter’s college tuition. The daughter in turn was contributing to her college costs by selling her eggs.

Fairness and gender equity benefit everyone. As Linda Hirshman argues in a recent op-ed, while Obama compares his infrastructure plan to the Eisenhower era construction of the interstate highway system,

It brings back the Eisenhower era in a less appealing way as well: there are almost no women on this road to recovery. … Fortunately, jobs for women can be created by concentrating on professions that build the most important infrastructure—human capital. In 2007, women were 83 percent of social workers, 94 percent of child care workers, 74 percent of education, training and library workers (including 98 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 92 percent of teachers’ assistants).

It’s simplistic to think that giving a woman access to preventive family planning services means she’ll find a great job in or out of the stimulus package. And families that plan and space their children don’t automatically become wealthy or happy.

Nevertheless, the fundamentals remain. For a thriving 21st century economy, America can’t afford to lose half its population’s contributions. The intersection between reproductive and economic justice must become as seamless today as “barefoot and pregnant” was in our history.

As a woman who used Title X funded birth control services—those to be expanded by the Prevention First Act—summed it up, “Times are hard and children are expensive.”

The Women’s Media Center (WMC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization making women visible and powerful in the media. Through our website, media training programs, and advocacy work, the WMC ensures that women are represented as they are: powerful newsmakers, informed experts, and sought-after media professionals. For more information, please visit www.womensmediacenter.com. I serve on the WMC board.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Lilly Ledbetter’s Courageous Acts Pump Up Your Pocketbook

Hey, Women: Want to earn a cool half million?

That’s about what the average woman loses over a career lifetime due to gender inequities in pay for the same jobs as men.

So click here to Speak Up and demand the Senate pass two crucial pieces of legislation so that Barack Obama can sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, as he has said he would do. In a historic vote, the House of Representatives on Friday passed both bills by substantial margins, largely along party lines. A Senate vote could come as early as this week.

No, these bills aren’t another financial bailout for ailing industries that don’t deserve them. They’re not a get-rich-quick scheme from late night television infomercial-land. Nor are they part of the badly needed but very expensive stimulus package—but they should be. Here’s why:

* Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, due to the career wage gap.

* Women at all education levels lose significant amounts of income due to the career wage gap, but women with a college degree or higher lose $713,000 over a 40-year period versus a $270,000 loss for women who did not finish high school.

* Women in all occupations suffer from the career wage gap.

* The gap exceeds $300,000 in 15 states, $400,000 in 22 states, and $500,000 in 11 states.

These shocking findings come from the Center for American Progress study, “Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap”, which analyzed the 40-year impact of the gender wage gap in all 50 states, using 10-year age groups of women and men aged 25-64.

If you’re an unmarried woman, the disparity is even greater. While women overall earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, unmarried women earn just 56 cents, according to Women’s Voices, Women Vote. No surprise then that unmarried women are more likely to file for bankruptcy, live in poverty along with their children, and be hurt more by our current economic crisis.

Why are two pieces of legislation needed?

Lisa M. Maatz, American Association of University Women’s director of public policy and government relations, explains: “The tandem of both bills is critical, because the Ledbetter bill restores lost ground, while the Paycheck Fairness Act actually gives more teeth to the law and will provide better technical assistance and incentives to employers to follow the law in the first place.”

AAUW has mounted a “Keep the Change” campaign, said Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, because the paltry 1 cent (from 77 to 78 cents on the dollar earned by men) increase from 2006 to 2007 is “chump change, not real change.”

Some Republicans argued that the legislation would be an earmark for trial lawyers. But here’s what the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay bill’s namesake says about why it’s needed, in a letter she wrote to Congress:

Thirty years ago, Goodyear hired me to work as supervisor in their tire plant in Gadsden, AL. I sometimes wondered how my pay compared to my colleagues, but there was no way to know for sure because pay levels were kept strictly confidential.

Thanks to an anonymous tip I received shortly before my retirement, I finally got some hard evidence of real pay discrimination. I filed a complaint without delay, and at the trial, the jury found that Goodyear had discriminated against me in violation of Title VII. The jury awarded me more than $3 million in back pay and punitive damages.

Unfortunately, that good moment didn’t last long. First, because of damages caps in Title VII, the trial judge was forced to reduce that award to $300,000 — a mere ten percent of what the jury had awarded me and hardly more than a slap on the wrist to a company the size of Goodyear.

Then, in 2007, my case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a disappointing 5-4 ruling , the justices took away the entire award, including the back pay. The Court said I should have complained every time I got a smaller raise than the men, even if I didn’t know what the men were getting paid and even if I had no way to prove the decision was discriminatory.

Ledbetter still didn’t give up. She says that now she’s fighting for all the other women and girls who deserve equal pay for equal work.

It’s powerfully symbolic that the first two bills passed by the 111th Congress concerned fair pay for women. Women held the key to the 2008 elections, a fact not unnoticed in Washington’s “art of the possible” culture, to quote the late great Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. The current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times, “This Congress has heard the message of change in the election.”

These bills clearly represent a stiletto boot on George W. Bush’s behind as he exits: he had promised to veto  the legislation had it reached his desk. Lilly Ledbetter and the large coalition of women’s organizations that worked diligently, building the support for paycheck fairness through the difficult Bush years, hope Obama’s first act will be to sign these bills.

In the department of courageous acts, it’s always up to voters to make easy for politicians to do the right thing, and difficult for them not to.

By her courage to act, Ledbetter ignited the movement for paycheck fairness that propelled both bills to victory.

So what are you waiting for, Ladies? Act now. You have a half-million at stake. Send your message to your Senators now.

And be sure to cc President-Elect Obama.

Lilly Ledbetter and Me

Update on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 01:09PM

Thanks to People for the American Way for this video summary of Lilly Ledbetter’s story.

Update on Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 02:18PM
1/15 Senate successfully votes to vote on the  Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. (Senate rules reqire 60 votes to bring legislation to the floor. That’s why it is called a test vote in the press release below. This is good news, as the margin was very comfortable, even without the addition of the probably two additional Democratic senators, Burris and Franken.)

AAUW press release excerpt:

WASHINGTON – AAUW applauds the Senate for today’s positive, bipartisan test vote (72-23) on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (S. 181), the bill named for the Alabama grandmother who has become the national face of pay equity. AAUW urges the Senate to move quickly to final passage of the measure and to act swiftly to pass additional pay equity legislation.

Last week, with the passage of both the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 11) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12), U.S. House of Representatives sent a clear message that pay discrimination will not be tolerated and demonstrated a firm, bipartisan resolve to attack such discrimination on all fronts.

“While we strongly support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, our members are clearly disappointed that the Senate hasn’t taken action on the Paycheck Fairness Act, too,” said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, CAE. “Passing the Ledbetter bill is only a down payment on an election year promise to address pay equity vigorously.”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.