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Working Americans! Your "Paycheck" Just Bounced

So the Paycheck Fairness Act failed, by two votes. There's already some dancing in the aisles along with a lot of head scratching. And the mantra from Fairness opponents: We just saved money! Liberated small businesses. And they'll imagine that's tied to economic growth. The GOP insists that it's all about jobs. And they've successfully bullied legislators into thinking that if women have the right to stand up for themselves, only trial lawyers would win. The bill, a companion to the Lily Ledbetter act, would have given workers the right to sue employers on pay discrimination.

My BNET colleauge, Suzanne Lucas, isn't in mourning for the act. Women already have the right to stand up for themselves, she writes, and it's a DIY process.

But I think many opponents of the Act are missing or trivializing the problem. According to the Wage Project, women's work is consistently paid less than men's work. Are janitors really worth more than nurses' aides, parking lot attendants more than child care workers, construction laborers more than bookkeepers and cashiers? According to American payrolls, they are. African American women earn only 68 cents for every dollar a man earns, while Hispanic women earn only 57 cents to the male dollar. It gets worse with age. The wage gap between women and men ages of 25-34 is 83.8%, between 35-44 it's 64.7%, by 45-54 it's 63.7.8% and for women 55-64 years it's 59.6%. But as of yesterday, that's not a problem.

But, if that weren't bad enough, in surveys involving over a million participants, it's abundantly clear that employees want three things from work

  • Community: a sense that they're contributing to something bigger than themselves
  • Stretch: Opportunities for personal development and growth
  • Fairness: A sense that everyone is treated equally.
You can hire people to work in places that don't have these three things, and in the current economic climate, they'll stay. They won't thrive and neither will the business they serve. Money may flow, but not passion, commitment, innovation or energy -- which, of course, translate into money). If business leaders want to know why their productivity is failing, look these three key ingredients. Anyone with a wider perspective than a gnat knows that economic grow doesn't come from job count; it comes from enthusiastic employees who do more than turn up.

Friends Don't Let Friends Earn 50% Less

It's awful working in companies where pay is unequal. I know. In my first very senior position in the U.S., I discovered I was being paid exactly 50% of my male counterparts. It was one of the lowest moments in my career. It wasn't just that I was mad. I was also deeply disappointed in the many people who must have known about this but did nothing.

But, as an American who grew up outside the U.S., I thought we were better than this. I really bought into the "liberty and justice for all" thing. I'd espoused it all my life - and taken flak for it as a naïve American. I've always believed that true leadership is about taking short term hits for long term progress. And I have never led a company where money came first and values came second.

Chamber of Commerce: A boy's (or white male's) best friend
The Chambers of Commerce (national and otherwise) have a lot to answer for. First they opposed any rational response to climate change; now they come out against fairness. This kind of short term, mean-minded thinking isn't competitive, it doesn't really drive economic growth. It's about protecting power for those who already have it and dismissing as irrelevant those who don't. Sure, you can put a price on this bill. You can put a price on almost anything. Now we've put a price on fairness and decided it's too high.

I appreciate that we are going through tough times. But times like these are a test: do you mean what you say, will you defend it when it costs you, or do you just pay lipservice to ideals you abandon under the slightest pressure? As tests go, I'd say we just flunked.

Before you bring home the bacon and fry it, make sure you strong-arm the butcher
Our best hope now is Evelyn Murphy's Wage Project which aims, by teaching women how to negotiate, to eliminate gender pay discrimination. It's a lofty goal and now that legislation won't help us, we have to help ourselves. Don't just get mad - also get even.