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Columbia Business Monthly

Modernizing the workplace entails more than ensuring pay equity for women

Jul 08, 2019 10:34AM
By Eme Crawford
Director of Communications and Learning,  WREN

South Carolina has a larger gender wage gap than the national average. In fact, African American women earn 53 cents on every dollar earned by white men in South Carolina, and white women earn 74 cents on every dollar earned by white men.

This is a problem for more than the obvious and egregious moral and ethical reasons of wage discrimination, running counter to our general societal value of fairness. Over time, the gender pay gap reduces women’s lifetime earnings and contributes to more women living in poverty. The pay gap affects her own life, and also her children and family members, and contributes to an intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Or, put more positively: economically empowered women and moms are the key to healthy and successful families and intergenerational economic mobility.

WREN believes our state can and should do better in providing economic opportunities for women. They are working with change makers across the state to make South Carolina the best in the country for women to live, learn, and earn.

WREN, the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, is a South Carolina-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with a mission to build a movement to advance the health, economic well-being, and rights of South Carolina’s women, girls, and their families. WREN has more than 37,000 people in their network and they work with elected officials, advocates, nonprofit partners, and businesses to improve equity and opportunity in the state.

The good news is that studies indicate the gender pay gap is shrinking. The bad news is that this reduction is happening too slowly. 

If change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, it will take 40 years for women in general to reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even more glacial: Hispanic women would have to wait another 205 years and black women would wait 100 years for pay equity.

We simply cannot afford to wait. 

While our state’s gender pay gap is staggering, there are actionable legislative policy steps we can take to change this. 

Current laws and practices are antiquated and are failing to close the gender pay gap. That’s why one of WREN’s top priorities during the 2019-2020 South Carolina legislative session is advancing An Act to Establish Pay Equity (H.3615 and S.372). This bill will ensure that employee pay is based on factors such as skill, effort, and responsibility; bans the use of salary history; and provides pay transparency without retaliation.  

The tenets of this bill are based on evidence and best practice. Asking for prior wage history can lead to an employee with equal or superior qualifications making less than a coworker doing the same job, simply because they happened to make less in their prior position.

Additionally, studies show that increased pay transparency creates work environments where employees are more likely to believe they are paid fairly, and thus are more engaged and productive.

Contrary to myths surrounding the gender pay gap, it cannot only be explained by making different career choices; even within the same occupations, women typically earn less than men. Wage discrimination affects women across industries, from professional athletes to lawyers to low-wage hourly workers. 

WREN has educated lawmakers, community members, partners, and the media about the continued need to address gender and racial pay gaps, culminating in the annual WREN Summit and a press conference at the Statehouse on Equal Pay Day. Featured speakers at this year’s WREN Summit included A’ja Wilson, former Lady Gamecock, current WNBA Las Vegas Aces player, and equal pay and women’s empowerment advocate, as well as Kim Wilkerson, S.C. Market President for Bank of America.

Modernizing the workplace entails more than ensuring pay equity. It also means creating workplaces that work for moms. To that end, during the last legislative session, WREN spearheaded the S.C. Pregnancy Accommodations Act, a new law that ensures pregnant women have the accommodations they need to work safely through their pregnancies, free from discrimination. Building on that victory, WREN has worked with bipartisan policymakers in the 2019 legislative session to advance the S.C. Lactation Support Act (H.3200). 

In order to continue the momentum on these bills in 2020, widespread and vocal support from South Carolinians is needed. Find out who your state senator is and their phone numbers by visiting scstatehouse.gov.

To learn more about WREN, visit their website at 
scwren.org.