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Women in California Are Still Paid Less Than Men. How Some Female Leaders Want to Change That

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Clarissa Horsfall holds a sign reading 'Equal Pay,' as she joins with others during 'A Day Without A Woman' demonstration on March 8, 2017, in Miami, Florida.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Women in California are paid from 41 cents to 80 cents for every dollar paid to a white man — a wide range that varies by race — despite efforts by lawmakers to bridge that gap, including a series of recent amendments to the state’s equal pay act. The total losses amount to more than $87 billion a year for women in the state.

Overall, women employed full-time, year-round in California are typically paid 89 cents for every dollar paid to all men in the state, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Equal Pay in California

Some female leaders, including First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, are aiming to close that divide even further with an initiative announced Monday: They’re asking businesses to pledge to conduct an annual gender pay analysis and to review hiring and promotion practices to stamp out unconscious bias and structural barriers to ensuring equal pay.

Thirteen businesses, including Apple, Airbnb, AT&T Communications Inc., Salesforce and Square, have signed on to the initiative, which is also being led by California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and Time’s Up.


“Across industries, women in the workforce earn less money than men do, and women of color often lose out the most. While California has some of the strongest laws on the books to ensure equal pay, passing a law is only the first step,” said Rebecca Goldman, interim CEO of Time’s Up.

California has been hailed as leading the nation in efforts to close the pay gap: In 2016, a new state law went into effect (the California Fair Pay Act) mandating that women be paid the same as their male colleagues “for substantially similar work.” It also imposed a ban on retaliation against women who discuss their pay, or ask about the salaries of colleagues, while on the job.

In 2017, lawmakers amended an older state law — the California Equal Pay Act, stating that an employer could not rely on prior pay to set salaries. In 2018, the law was amended again to say that employers could no longer ask about a potential employee’s previous salary.

Nonetheless, the gap remains. The National Partnership for Women & Families found wide gulfs between what a white man earns and what white women and women of color make in California:

Those gaps amount to yearly lost earnings in the thousands of dollars for women: $44,500 for Latinas, $39,000 for Native Americans, $31,000 for blacks, $21,500 for Asian Americans, and $15,100 for white, non-Hispanics. Data analysis by the National Partnership for Women & Families using U.S. Census data from 2017 and 2018.
Analysis by the National Partnership for Women & Families using U.S. Census data from 2017 and 2018. (Elena Lacey/KQED)

Those gaps mean women are typically paid this much less than white, non-Hispanic men every year: $44,500 for Latinas, $39,000 for Native Americans, $31,000 for blacks, $21,500 for Asian Americans, and $15,100 for white non-Hispanics.

California Pay Gap Wage Gap-KQED

“You put a law on the books but that doesn’t stop things overnight, said Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. “A lot of the stereotypes that lead to pay discrimination are very deeply ingrained. And so there is a lot that we need to be doing to stop them from being perpetuated throughout workplaces on the front end.”

One of those efforts, she said, is Siebel Newsom’s initiative — which echoes that of the Obama administration’s White House equal pay pledge that a number of companies signed onto.

“It’s an important tool to increase awareness amongst companies of the many things that are affecting pay,” she said. Having companies pledge to conduct companywide gender pay analysis is “important,” she added, because “doing that regular equal pay analysis is a crucial tool to closing the wage gap.”

While this kind of initiative is an important part of the fight to achieving equal pay, “on its own, it’s incomplete,” said Vasu Reddy, senior policy counsel for workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

“These types of initiatives are really great at pulling out companies that want to do better, but they don’t address bad actors that are out there that are not interested in improving their practices,” she said. “And you really need laws to back up these practices.”

Since the initiative is outreach around California law, Reddy said, “it is a really powerful part of getting towards equal pay.”

“Other states don’t do as well necessarily with passing laws or with creating these kinds of initiatives,” she added. “It’s really important that we continue to have progress towards federal solutions on equal pay, because it’s really important that whether you’re paid fairly shouldn’t depend on where you live.”

Got a news tip or comment? Email the reporter: mleitsinger@kqed.org. You can also reach her on the encrypted communications app, Signal: 650-888-2765.

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