California’s Gender Wage Gap

The gender wage gap is real. In short, women earn less than men for doing the same work. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gender wage gap in California has ranged between 10% and 17% over the last 20 years.

Though California’s gap is currently better than the national margin by about 7.2%, that is small consolation to women everywhere who continue to endure unequal and illegal treatment at the hands of their employers.

It is difficult to understand why we continue to be plagued by the gender wage gap in the age of #MeToo and #BLM. Several theories have been put forward.

Women Don’t Know They’re Being Paid Less Than Men

Most workers in California are kept in the dark about wage data as company policy. It follows that employees lack vital knowledge about what their coworkers are paid – often for performing the same duties and responsibilities. These employees, in turn, undervalue themselves when they negotiate their salary with their employer.

Women Lack A Viable Legal Remedy

Although California has tried to address the gender wage gap issue with legislation, such as the Fair Pay Act and Wage Equality Act, women face great difficulty pursuing a remedy after they have been subjected to unlawful treatment for two key reasons:

  1. There is little financial incentive for attorneys to accept these cases because awards are severely limited.
  2. Although retaliation against women who file lawsuits against their employers alleging gender-based pay violations is illegal, the reality is that most individuals who sue their employers are retaliated against. Many employees find it is just not worth the pain and potential loss of income.

Discrimination And Stereotypes Are All Too Real

Old attitudes about working women persist to this day. In male-dominated industries, it can still be difficult for women to break into roles they deserve, let alone earn as much as their male counterparts. Married women, pregnant women and mothers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination based on outdated attitudes about “a woman’s place” or her perceived financial security through her husband.

Employers Are To Blame

At the root of issues of unequal pay are, of course, those who write the checks. Companies and their officers and managers who fail to address inequality in their pay structures are culpable in perpetuating the gender wage gap.

This is not to say that all wage inequality is intentional. It is entirely possible that companies have wage structures and compensation reviews that are non-standard and lacking in transparency to the rest of the organization. Intent is not, however, the issue. The law is clear: “equal pay for substantially similar work.” Anything less is illegal under California law.

California Law Is Too Weak…

Beginning with the California Equal Pay Act in 1949, our State has long led the way in the fight for equal compensation for equal work. In October 2015, the Equal Pay Act was strengthened by the passage of the Fair Pay Act, which codified the previously mentioned “equal pay for substantially similar work” rule. Unfortunately, these laws at both the state and federal level haven’t had the strength necessary to close the wage gap.

…Until Now?

Signed by Governor Newsom in 2020, S.B. 973 requires California businesses with 100 or more employees to provide the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing with reporting on employee wages by race and gender. The required “pay data report” will hopefully provide real transparency into wage structures at medium and large businesses here in California. Time will tell.

Questions About California Wage Law?

The complexity of the laws governing issues like the gender wage gap cannot be overstated. If you are a woman and have reason to believe you aren’t earning as much as the men in your company, contact us online to discuss your issue.


Share On Social Media