There are few forms of discrimination that have as much wide-spread and consistent impact on success then the wage gap. The wage gap references the statistical gap between men and women’s pay for equal work. To date, all skills and experience being equal, white women earn 77 cents on the dollar that white men earn. Men and women of color fare worse.
The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. At the time of the EPA’s passage, women earned just 58 cents for every dollar earned by men. By 2006, that rate had only increased to 77 cents, an improvement of less than half a penny a year. Minority women fare the worst. African-American women earn just 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men, and for Hispanic women that figure drops to merely 52 cents per dollar. –InfoPlease
And if you don’t think those pennies add up, consider that a college graduated women will lose over $1 million in wage earnings compared to her male counterpart due to wage discrimination. This sort of discrimination is intolerable and even more so because there is a lot that we can do to address it.
How can the church begin to address this issue? There is much we can do, and plenty of resources to guide us. The following is a simple plan for taking action in your church.
- Document and Research
- Collaborate and Learn
- Talk to the Boss
1. Document and Research – There are some compelling reasons to make our salaries known. The taboo on sharing how much you make is one of the reasons this sort of discrimination can thrive. Knowing what others in your field make will help you be aware of if you are being unfairly paid. Churches as communities and action centers are a perfect place to coordinate this kind of sharing. Researching wages within your field and if you are being appropriately paid is something many people already do individually. While individual research has benefits, imagine the collaborative ability a church body has to gather this type of information and keep it shared and public within the community. Within the church, opening conversations about our incomes could have all kinds of other implications as well. Documenting also means letting it be known when you feel you were mistreated or unfairly dealt with as it relates to your wage. If any place should be a safe haven and a place to share those things, it should be the church.
2. Collaborate and Learn– Caring after the orphans and widows in their distress has to do with a lot more then providing clothing and shelter (though that’s good too). Acts of charity are good things, but wouldn’t it be amazing to see the church as a collaborating force to ensure women were treated and paid fairly? The church, as a unified body, is just the sort of community that can provide the resources and preparation for demanding fair wages. If someone had concerns about their unfair treatment at work, the church should be able to provide contact information and resources for learning how to negotiate, rather then just an offer to pray for the person. An African American women earning the dollar (rather then 64 cents to a white males dollar) she deserves for her work doesn’t need to depend on the charity of others to survive and she can have the pride of standing on her own two feet, rather then being the victim of oppressive discrimination.
3. Talk to the Boss– Probably the most intimidating and daunting task of many people’s jobs is asking something of their boss. Especially for single-income households, talking to your boss about your pay, or any acknowledgment of being unsatisfied with work, can be a very scary task as there is probably a great fear of getting fired. Once again, the church has an important role in this step. The churches role is to be a supportive and loving body in the midst of injustice. So, not only do we help empower and prepare people to ask for equal wages, we are also there to support them should their demands be met with resistance. It’s much easier to stand strong against mistreatment and discrimination if you have a loving supportive community around you.
4. Celebrate!– I’d urge churches or small groups to have Wage Parties, or maybe Against Injustice parties. When my house mate paid off his last school loan and became debt free, we had a celebratory party. It was a beautiful thing. Like a celebration after finding a lost coin or sheep, we should celebrate when unjustly stolen salaries have been given back. The church should be a place of praise and celebration, for fair wages as much as anything else.
source: The steps used are based loosely on an article, Mind the Wage Gap, from the fall 2005 issue of Ms. Magazine.
(This post was originally posted in April of 2007)