San Francisco’s Women’s Leadership Alliance
Position Paper on Pay Equity


At the turn of the 21st century, despite a booming economy, women are still paid less than men for the same and comparable work. The Women¹s Leadership Alliance holds that wage discrimination must be eliminated. We will work to support legislative proposals that would remedy the lingering effects of discrimination on women¹s paychecks.

  • In 1998, women working full-time, year-round, earned only 73 cents for each dollar a man earned.
  • College educated women earn $11,900 less per year than college-educated men.
  • College educated African American women earn $400 less per year than white male high school graduates.
  • College educated Latinas earned only 57 cents for each dollar a man earned in 1996.
  • The average woman loses $8,500 annually due to the wage gap and will lose $523,000 over her career.
  • Collectively, women lose over $100 billion annually in wages.

Critics argue that having children breaks women¹s climb up the salary scale. But the facts prove otherwise. A recently released report on pay in the U.S. Senate reveals that women staffers who are predominantly young and single earn about 83 percent of their male colleagues’ salaries.

Critics also claim women have chosen lower paying fields with flexible schedules to provide more time to care for their families. Again, the facts prove otherwise. A landmark report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a significant portion of the wage gap is due to undervaluing contributions of women¹s occupations. “Only a small part of the earnings differences between men and women can be accounted for by differences in education, labor force experience, labor force commitment or other factors believed to contribute to productivity differences among workers.” In fact, in the instances that women do chose lower paying fields with flexible schedules, even within those fields women are paid less than men for the same and comparable work.


The Women¹s Leadership Alliance supports equal pay. Equal pay means that employers must pay women truck drivers the same as male truck drivers. Federal law has required equal pay for men and women who do equal work since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Furthermore, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits wage discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin or disability. Similarly, the California Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination based solely on sex.

The Women¹s Leadership Alliance also supports pay equity (comparable worth). Pay should be based on job related factors such as skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, not on a worker¹s gender or race. For example, the “female job” of Clerk Typist 2 and the “male job” of Delivery Van Driver have been evaluated as demanding the same kinds of skill, effort and responsibility. But in most states, the driver is paid a higher wage. Pay equity is achieved by systematically judging the worth of jobs and then paying comparably.


Why is There a Wage Gap?
The wage gap exists because most women and people of color are still segregated into a few low-paying occupations. More than half of all women workers hold jobs in sales, clerical and service jobs. Studies show that the more an occupation is dominated by women or people of color, the less it pays. Part of the wage gap results from differences in education, experience or time in the workforce. But a significant portion can not be explained by any of those factors; it is attributable to wage discrimination. In other words, certain jobs pay less because they are held by women or people of color.

Hasn’t the Wage Gap Closed Considerably in Recent Years?
The wage gap has narrowed by about twelve percentage points during the last fourteen years, from 62 percent in 1982 to 74.1 percent in 1997. Since 1973, however, much of the change in the wage gap has resulted from the fall in men’s real earnings. The wage gap has fluctuated often, ranging from a low of 57 percent in the mid 1970’s, and peaking at 72 percent in 1990 and again in 1993 and 1994. In 1995, the ratio dipped again as a result of a 1.5 percent decline in women’s real earnings. In 1946, the wage gap reached a high of 66 percent, but fell again to 63 percent in the 1950’s.

Is It Possible to Compare Different Jobs?
Yes, employers have used job evaluations for nearly a century to set pay and rank for different occupations within a company or organization. Today, two out of three workers are employed by firms that use some form of job evaluation. The federal government, the nation’s largest employer, has a 70 year old job evaluation system that covers nearly 2 million employees.

Who Really Needs Pay Equity?
Women, people of color, and white men who work in jobs that have been undervalued due to race or sex bias need pay equity. Many are the sole support for their families. Discriminatory pay has consequences as people mature and across generations — it affects retirement security. Everyone in society is harmed by wage discrimination. Everyone needs pay equity.

Is Pay Equity an Effective Anti-Poverty Strategy?
Yes, pay equity helps workers become self-sufficient and reduces their reliance on government assistance programs. A recent study found that nearly 40 percent of working poor women could leave welfare programs if they were to receive pay equity wage increases. Pay equity can bring great savings to tax payers at a minimal cost to business, adjustments would cost no more than 3.7 percent of hourly wage costs.

Will White Men’s Wages be Reduced if Pay Equity is Implemented?
No. Federal law prohibits reducing pay for any employee to remedy discrimination. Furthermore, male workers in female-dominated jobs benefit when sex discrimination is eliminated, as do white workers in minority-dominated jobs. Pay equity means equal treatment for all workers.

Will Pay Equity Require a National Wage Setting System?
No. Pay equity does not mandate across-the-board salaries for any occupation or tamper with supply and demand. It merely means that wages must be based on job requirements like skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions without consideration of race, sex or ethnicity.

Doesn’t Pay Equity Cost Employers Too Much?
In Minnesota, where pay equity legislation meant raises for 30,000 state employees, the cost was only 3.7 percent of the state’s payroll budget over a four year period–less than 1 percent of the budget each year. In Washington State, pay equity was achieved at a cost of 2.6 percent of the state’s personnel costs and was implemented over an eight year period. Voluntary implementation of pay equity is cost effective. Court-ordered pay equity adjustments can lead to greater costs. Discrimination is costly and illegal.

Will Pay Equity Disrupt the Economy?
No. The Equal Pay Act, minimum wage, and child labor laws all provoked the same concerns, and all were implemented without major disruption. What disrupts the economy and penalizes families is the systematic underpayment of some people because of their sex or race. When wages for women and people of color are raised, their purchasing power will increase, strengthening the economy.

The information in this position statement draws heavily from the National Committee on Pay Equity,