Thursday, March 11, 2010

Paycheck Fairness Act: Interview with Lisa Maatz

I just interviewed Lisa Maatz, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) about the Paycheck Fairness Act. This morning, the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearding on the Paycheck Fairness Act, an update of the Equal Pay Act that was signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has 36 co-sponsors and was already approved by the House, would help create a climate in which wage discrimination is not tolerated. Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that women earn, on average, only 77 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts (even when they have same major and occupation).

What is the Paycheck Fairness Act and how does it differ from the Equal Pay Act?
The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) is a much needed update that amends the Equal Pay Act. It offers legislation that provides an update to a bill that was signed in 1963. Things have changed and we’ve learned a lot since then about discrimination, the ways to deter it, what works and what doesn’t. The PFA is an extension of that knowledge.

Why is the Paycheck Fairness Act so important, particularly now in light of the recession?
When it comes to the recession- and it was true before but even more so now- women’s wages are an important way to make ends meet. Especially in a recession, when one of the key components to recovery is consumer spending, fair wages for women is essential. Two-thirds of women are either the primary or co-breadwinner for their households. Pay equity is not just a social issue; it has an economic impact.

The Equal Pay Act was signed by JFK in 1963- almost 50 years ago. Why does pay discrimination still exist? What do you believe are the main causes of pay discrimination?
Still exists bc there has been revolutionary change in women’s roles but not revolutionary change in stereotypes of women. Job segregation- certain jobs appropriate for men and certain for women. When you have the vast majority of women in lower paid occupations, is it really that those jobs are not that valuable or that we’re not valuing women as much as well.

I was following the hearing on AAUW’s live blog, and I believe it was Senator Enzi who said that the pay gap is due more to women’s choices than to discrimination. How would you respond to that?
Are they really their choices? Yes, women’s choices factor into that but I would ask if they are truly free choices.With more women being the breadwinners, or the only breadwinners, they are going to be concerned about taking any legal action that could jeopardize their current position or affect their ability to get a new job.
That is why the PFA is so important. It is structured to do a lot more from the front end, by encouraging employers to do more. The current sanctions are so light for employers who fail to pay men and women equally. The PFA will create incentives for businesses, as well as women, to have frank discussions upfront, and provisions to help women better negotiate salary. It will also tighten the sanctions against employers who fail to comply.

The AAUW is promoting this bill in many ways. What social media tools are you using to spread the word? 
We are using several tools to promote the bill. We had a live blog during the Senate hearing this morning, and have been sharing information via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other channels. We also created Web stickers that can be embedded on blogs and social networks in different sizes and codes that are appropriate for those kinds of vehicles. 

How can we help?

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