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Paycheck Fairness Act: Good Riddance

My BNET Colleague, Margaret Heffernan is lamenting the demise of the Paycheck Fairness Act. She writes
[Opponents to the Paycheck Fairness Act have] successfully bullied legislators into thinking that if women have the right to stand up for themselves, only trial lawyers would win.
And, this is where Margaret Heffernan and I part ways. Women already have the right to stand up for themselves. In fact, I find it offensive when people think I'm so incompetent and incapable that I can't walk into a salary negotiation and handle it on my own. Instead, what I need is a powerful and benevolent government that holds my hand and guarantees that I'll be given the same salary as the men.

Forget that. I prefer to make more money than men in the position that I'm in. And I'll achieve that through hard work and bringing more value to the company than others will. Or, conversely, I won't. If my coworker is contributing more or is a better negotiator than I am, why should I benefit from that person's skills?

Paycheck Fairness wasn't about being fair, it was about being equal. Fair and equal are not the same thing and the sooner we all recognize that, the happier we'll be. This bill would have opened the door to a whole lot of equality and not a lot of fairness.

Stephanie Thomas, over at Compensation Cafe gives some examples of the Paycheck Fairness Act would be applied in real life:

Let's assume that John and Jane have identical characteristics (education, work experience, etc.) except for gender. ABC Company makes offers of employment to John and Jane on the same day, for the same position, for the same starting salary: $45,000. Jane accepts the offer, but John negotiates the salary, and ends up with $50,000. Under the current equal pay laws, there's no problem; John is earning more because he negotiated and Jane did not. Makes sense, right? Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, ABC Company would be guilty of gender discrimination.

Here's another example. Assume that Sam and Sally have the same education, work experience, etc., and are both hired by WidgetCo on the same day. WidgetCo sets Sam and Sally's starting salary at $2,500 more than they were making at their previous job. Sam was earning $37,500 at his previous job, and Sally was earning $36,000; their starting salaries at WidgetCo are $40,000 and $38,500. Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, WidgetCo would be guilty of gender discrimination.

One final example. Assume that Brad and Bridget both work for Alpha Inc., have the same job title, same level of responsibility, etc., and they are both earning $100,000 per year. Brad asks for a 5% raise, but Bridget doesn't ask for a raise. Brad gets the raise and ends up earning more than Bridget. Again, no problems here, right? Wrong - under the Paycheck Fairness Act, Alpha Inc. would be guilty of gender discrimination.

Think about those examples for a few minutes. Why should Jane benefit because John has the sense to negotiate his salary?

There's also this idea that because people have the same title they do the same amount of work. Essentially, what this act would do is make managers have to treat non-union employees as union employees. If one of you gets a raise, all of you gets one. This is foolish when it comes to developing, retaining and hiring the best people. I want to be able to treat employees differently because the are different. I want to be able to evaluate an individual and determine a salary.

Margaret Heffernan writes about how shocked and hurt she was when she discovered she was being paid less than her peers. I hope she walked into the CEOs office and demanded an explanation. I presume she did, as she's been very successful in her career. As I've said before, I'm in favor of openness about salaries. Instead of being open about salaries, companies hide them. HR professionals who object to my ideas about openness in salary (ranges at least, not necessarily actual dollar amounts, although I'm not terribly opposed to that either), generally say that it's not practical because people will whine. If you were open to begin with, open in the hiring process, open in the yearly evaluation process and didn't get all freaked out when two employees compare notes, everyone goes into the situation with their eyes open.

Furthermore, this was designed to fix a problem, that for all practical purposes doesn't exist. (I'm not saying that some women aren't discriminated against. Some women are. Some men are. Heck, we had a big discussion on being discriminated against because of weight a while back. But, no one wants to bring out the scales at annual increase time.) CONSAD Research Corp did an indepth analysis of the effect of gender on pay in 2009. It turns out that almost all the differences can explained by choice. From the forward by the Department of Labor.

1. A greater percentage of women than men tend to work part-time.

2. A greater percentage of women than men tend to leave the labor force for child birth, child care and elder care...

3. Women, especially working mothers, tend to value "family friendly" workplace policies more than men...

I don't want to go back to a time when I didn't have the options that I do today. In order to have options, I need the freedom to negotiate. I don't want to have to worry about the government looking over my shoulder, trying to make things "equal." I'd much rather they were fair.

Photo by DorkyMum, Flickr cc 2.0

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