Last week was “Equal Pay Day,” sparking political debate over pay fairness. President Obama signed an executive order around transparency for federal contractors, and Democrats introduced a bill aimed at pay equity. Although the Equal Pay Act has been on the books since 1963, court decisions over the years have revealed loopholes in the law, and a culture of secrecy around salaries is still the norm in most workplaces. Some employers even forbid discussion of pay, although legally, employees have a right to discuss salaries. We explore the complex issues around pay equity.


  • Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
  • Emily Martin Vice President and General Counsel, National Women's Law Center


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Howard Ross is here. "Equal Pay Day," was last week. That's the date marking the three-and-a-half extra months the average woman would have to work in order to match the money a man made in 2013. President Obama took the occasion to sign an executive order. It would prevent federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about their pay. Advocates say it's an important step, yet it's a complicated issue.

  • 13:07:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBeing allowed to discuss your salary doesn't erase the cultural and etiquette taboos and sensitivities around the topic. Joining us to discuss it is Howard Ross, principal at Cook Ross and the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." Howard, welcome.

  • 13:07:44

    MR. HOWARD ROSSHi, Kojo.

  • 13:07:45

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women's Law Center. Emily Martin, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:54

    MS. EMILY MARTINThank you.

  • 13:07:55

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Do you discuss your salary with coworkers? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or send email to Emily Martin, "Equal Pay Day" was marked by a slew of activity, including legislation here, in the District, with a bill in the D.C. Council aiming for transparency around salaries. And as we said, President Obama signed an Executive Order having to do with federal contractors. Can you talk about what that Executive Order says and why it's significant?

  • 13:08:28

    MARTINWell, pay discrimination is interesting, because it's really easy to be the victim of pay discrimination and have no idea that that's the case. And one reason for that is because, for a lot of reasons, often you don't know how much your coworkers are making. Now, there are reasons why. It's just an awkward conversation topic. But in a lot of private-sector workplaces, in fact studies show about 61 percent of employees work in workplaces where it's either forbidden or strongly discouraged to discuss your pay.

  • 13:09:02

    MARTINAnd if you think that you might be at risk for discipline or for being fired if you talk about your wages or how much your coworker's making, that's a big chilling effect on having the sorts of conversations that could allow you to learn that actually you're being paid less than the man down the hall. Now what the Executive Order does, which is incredibly important, is says that federal contractors can't have policies that say you can't discuss your pay or you're going to be subject to discipline. And that's important because it allows for these sorts of conversations that let employees know if they're being paid unfairly.

  • 13:09:42

    MARTINAnd it's important because the federal contractor workforce is very large. It's about 22 percent of the U.S. civilian workforce. So this Executive Order will actually reach a lot of employees around the country.

  • 13:09:54

    NNAMDIAs I was thinking or we were saying earlier, federal contractors do a lot of work in the private sector also. And so if they have to disclose it, that means like a firm like Cook Ross, which also does federal contractors, would have to allow its workers to discuss pay issues. Do you have a problem with that, Howard?

  • 13:10:11

    ROSSRight. No, no, of course not. I mean, I happen not to have a problem with that. But it is true, even though we do probably less than 5 percent of our work in the federal government, I mean, I'm not sure exactly what the statistics are right now, but it's a relatively small percentage, yet we still are, because of our GSA rating, responsible for certain -- to follow certain practices. And, you know, this -- the whole point that Emily made is a good one because, you know, if you think about what happens in organizations, you know, people are suffering in silence, or not even suffering in some cases, they don't necessarily even know that there's anything wrong with their pay.

  • 13:10:42

    ROSSI remember I was doing a leadership team meeting one time with a group -- oh, gosh, it's got to be 10, 15 years ago now -- and this group had about, you know, maybe 12 people, 4 of whom were women. And somehow, in the course of this conversation, some gender dynamics popped up. It was actually team development work. It wasn't -- we weren't even doing gender work at the time or even diversity work. And the women started to share some things and all of sudden started to notice they weren't the only one.

  • 13:11:08

    ROSSAnd at the end of the session, this one woman came up to me -- I'll never forget, her first name was Mary -- she came up to me and she said, "I just want you to know, I'm really angry for you, for letting the conversation go in that direction." And I was a little surprised. I said, "Okay. I understand. If you need to talk about that, let me know." And about two weeks later I get a phone call from her. And she says -- I answer the phone and she says, "Howard, hi. This is Mary." And she was very chipper. I said, "Oh, hi." You know? And kind of wondered what was going on.

  • 13:11:30

    ROSSShe said, "I just wanted to tell you that I realized the reason I was so upset was because in that meeting I realized that the money we were making was $7,000 less than the other vice presidents. And I just got out of a meeting with the CEO where I requested and received a $7,000 increase as a result of that." And so I, of course, asked if there was a commission. But there wasn't. But all kidding aside, I think that that happens a lot. It's only when one talks to somebody else that you realize, this is not -- this is not a personal problem. It's not a special-case problem, it's a common-case problem that we're dealing with.

  • 13:12:01

    NNAMDIDoes your employer have rules about discussing salaries? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or send email to You can go to our website,, ask a question or make a comment there. Emily Martin, can we talk for a moment about the number we hear so much, that on average a woman makes $0.77 for every dollar a man makes? That figure has been mentioned many times in speeches by President Obama. However, it's also disputed by some. What goes into that number and why is it complicated?

  • 13:12:31

    MARTINRight. So the $0.77 number has a lot of information in it, really. It's a comparison of the earnings of a full-time, year-round woman -- working woman, with a full-time, year-round working man, on average. And it's true that part of what that $0.77 number reflects is pay discrimination, when women are making less than men in the same job doing the same work. But part of what it reflects is the fact that women tend to work in lower-paid jobs than men. It also reflects the fact that women often face a financial penalty because of caregiving obligations they have outside of the workforce.

  • 13:13:12

    MARTINSo there are a lot of sources of inequality that are reflected in that $0.77 number, including what we think of as pay discrimination and including other forms of discrimination and other barriers that women face to full success and opportunity in the workforce.

  • 13:13:28

    NNAMDIAre there factors, however, in that number that you can control for -- education, experience, those kinds of factors?

  • 13:13:36

    MARTINSo if you try to say what part of that number is sort of straight pay discrimination, paying women less for the same work.

  • 13:13:42

    NNAMDIFor the same job.

  • 13:13:44

    MARTINAnd you control for occupation, and you control for hours worked and experience, you'll find that a significant percentage, and the studies vary about how much it is, but say 40 percent is a number a lot have come with of that pay gap is unexplained by the factors that you would think might matter, like which kind of job you're doing. And if you look at a particular occupation to make these apple-to-apples comparisons, you'll see a pay gap again and again. Even when you start at the very beginning of people's careers...

  • 13:14:15

    NNAMDIYou say, even when we talk about grads just out of school...

  • 13:14:19


  • 13:14:19

    NNAMDIThere's already a gap?

  • 13:14:20

    MARTINYes. If you look, the first job out of college, and you match for major and you match for hours worked and you match for demographic characteristics -- so you match for whether they have children and they're married -- in that very first job, there's still a pay gap of about 7 percent, when you match really closely on all those relevant factors. And that gap tends only to grow over time, for various reasons. One reason is that often your raises are a percentage of your current salary. So if you start out with a small gap and then it keeps increasing as a percentage of your salary, that gap will grow over time.

  • 13:14:55

    MARTINAnd it's also the case that if you are making less than, say, your male partner, and you're making decisions down the line about whether someone's going to take time out of the workforce to raise children, it can seem like the economically rational thing for you, as the person who makes less, to do that. But of course that compounds as well, when you reenter the workforce. So these gaps tend to get bigger and bigger as women's careers progress.

  • 13:15:19

    ROSSKojo, if I could add something here. I think, you know, I completely agree with what Emily is saying about these rational decisions that people make about childrearing, for example. Who's going to take the time for childrearing? But there are even far stronger drivers that are not very rational. They're just -- the tendency that we have for the expectation to be that the woman will be the one who sacrifices certain aspects of her career, or can't work overtime as much, or has to take more days off, or has to stay home when the kids are sick, because it's easier for that -- given the sociocultural expectations we have around that.

  • 13:15:50

    ROSSAnd as a result, over the long term, those little bites, week by week, have a huge impact on not only people's earning potential, but also how quickly they get moved into other positions, how quickly they get promoted, what kind of opportunities they're put on, how much travel they get relative to work-related assignments. Are they put on the sort of stretch assignment that's going to take a real push to get it done?

  • 13:16:12

    ROSSYou know, all those kinds of things are factors. And they may not be rational at all. They may just be reactions to the sort of emotional tendency that people have and choices people make themselves because of those emotional tendencies, because a lot of women, you know, feel compelled to make those choices for themselves at times as well.

  • 13:16:29

    NNAMDII want to move on to the phones to talk with Lisa in Cincinnati, Ohio, who can tell you how she found out that she wasn't being paid at a certain level. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:16:40

    LISAHi. Thanks for taking my call. As I was telling the person, I worked for a major corporation and had been working for them for six or seven years and was quite happy with my progression and salary.

  • 13:16:56

    NNAMDIAnd then?

  • 13:16:56

    LISAIt was only after I married another coworker and he actually...

  • 13:17:00

    NNAMDISee the lengths we have to go to, to find out these things? Go ahead, please.

  • 13:17:04

    LISAI -- you know, even we didn't discuss salaries for quite a while. And then one day we were having a conversation about it, and I found out that he was making more than I was, even though I had more years of service at the exact same level, with the exact same ranking. So on policy, should have been my salary was -- should have been higher than his.

  • 13:17:27

    LISASo of course I was quite upset about that and went to my director and had the conversation. And, to give him credit, you know, he looked into it and came back and I got an immediate salary increase. I was getting salary increases all along, but he was -- my husband obviously was getting salary increases at a faster pace, even though we had the same ranking, same degree, same job, et cetera, and I had two more years of experience.

  • 13:17:57

    NNAMDIThat is an amazing story, Lisa. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

  • 13:18:02

    LISAAll right.

  • 13:18:02

    NNAMDIEmily, when is a difference in salary for similar positions legal?

  • 13:18:08

    MARTINWell, in part that depends on what part of the country you live in, since different courts say different things. But what the Equal Pay Act says is that you can pay men and women different amounts if it's based on seniority or a merit system, or if it's based on some sort of productivity measure. Or you can do it, and the language is, if it's any factor other than sex. And so one big question in Equal Pay Laws, what does that mean, any factor other than sex? And some courts have said it literally means any factor. You don't have to show that it's related to business purposes.

  • 13:18:47

    MARTINYou don't have to show it's related to qualifications for the job. You can say, I pay the man more because he speaks French, whether or not the job requires speaking French. Some courts have interpreted it more narrowly and say that you have to show a business-related reason that justifies the differential in pay. But one of the reasons that the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is a bill that Congress just recently voted on and failed to pass, is so important is it would make clear that that factor other than sex has to be a business-related factor. That it really has to matter for the job that the employee is doing or for the business that the employer is running.

  • 13:19:25

    NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call. And, Howard, of course women are not the only ones who face pay discrimination, because there are number of stereotypes and biases at work here. Can you talk about that and about some of the studies around the factors affecting salary and promotions for women?

  • 13:19:42

    ROSSYeah, well there are any number of studies that have been -- that have come out, and recent studies, too. I'm not talking about ones from the way past. I mean, back in 2012, Joe Handelsman, who's a professor at Yale University, did a study where she asked -- she gave prospective resumes to faculty members for a lab assistant's position. And the resumes were identical with the exception of some were named John and some were named Jennifer. Everything else about them word for word was the same.

  • 13:20:06

    ROSSOn a scale of one to seven, the professors ranked John on average of four, Jennifer 3.3. The average salary they offered John on average was $4,000 higher than the salary offered to Jennifer.

  • 13:20:16

    NNAMDIAnd even some of the women professors did that.

  • 13:20:18

    ROSSActually men and women were almost identical in terms of their -- and this is very consistent. Another research study at the University of North Carolina, they asked people to look at two candidates named David and Diane. The interesting thing -- and very similar results. The interesting thing about the North Carolina study was what they found was they did it specifically with male professors or with male employers, excuse me.

  • 13:20:39

    ROSSBut what they found was that when the employer was married -- when the male employer was married to a woman who was a career woman, there was almost no differential in how they rated them. When the person was married to somebody who was a homemaker then they overwhelmingly chose Davis as opposed to Diane in that particular study.

  • 13:20:55

    ROSSAnd one of the things that's interesting about this is that Brian Nosek who's a University of Virginia psychologist who's done a lot of research with one of the creators of the Implicit Association Test did a study of this relative to -- relating conscious and unconscious attitudes. They found some very interesting data about this and found that if you measure people's conscious biases, there's no question that men are almost twice as likely as women to think that women do not belong in the workplace on an equal level.

  • 13:21:23

    ROSSWhen you look at the unconscious patterns, which they use things like the Implicit Association Test to measure, those differences almost evaporate. The women have almost the same unconscious negative biases about themselves being in the workplace as men do. Now obviously this is a result of being exposed to the same stereotyping, the same modeling that we see.

  • 13:21:40

    ROSSEven today, the percentage of women in primetime TV is dramatically less than the population. The percentages of women who talk, for example, roughly 50 percent of men on primetime TV talk about their job whereas about 13 percent fewer of the women who are on prime TV are talking about their jobs in their roles.

  • 13:21:59

    ROSSSo all of these things influence our unconscious beliefs. And even if consciously we agree -- and that's why I was saying before about the rational decision -- even though rationally we agree that everybody should be treated fairly, on an unconscious level when a woman walks in the room part of me still automatically goes to, hey, could you check and see if there's any coffee here, even if she's a vice president of marketing. It's just a -- those links are very strong in our brain.

  • 13:22:22

    NNAMDIWe're going to be taking a short break, but if you have called, stay on the line. That means you, Margie, in Bethesda and anyone else who called 800-433-8850, or send an email to Did you negotiate your salary when you were hired or put yourself forward for promotions, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:24:41

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing pay equity in the workplace with Emily Martin, vice president and general counselor of The National Women's Law Center and our regular guest Howard Ross. He's a principal at Cook Ross and the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." And we're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you know if you're paid the same as colleagues in a similar position? Allow me to go directly to Margie in Bethesda, Md. who can tell us about her experience. Margie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:25:14

    MARGIEHi. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo.

  • 13:25:17

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:25:17

    MARGIEI -- my experience is in an organization where its organizational values seem to value transparency, yet from an HR perspective we were not allowed to talk about salary, and where inequities did crop up. I had the experience as a female manager managing employees at the same level and rank as another female employee. And I was trying to get her a raise and was being told no. And then found out in a budgeting process that another employee with the same rank and the same years of service had obtained the higher salary from her male manager.

  • 13:26:08


  • 13:26:09

    MARGIEAnd, well, once I got to point out that inequity, my employee did get her salary increase. But it was...

  • 13:26:17

    NNAMDIBut if -- how were you able to point it out if you were...

  • 13:26:19

    MARGIE...there was no other way to do it except that I was on executive management and privy to the budget process (unintelligible) department.

  • 13:26:24

    NNAMDIOh, okay. I was wondering about that because, Emily Martin, a lot of employers do forbid employees from discussing what they earn. It may surprise people however to learn that they do have rights in this area. What does the law say about discussing salaries?

  • 13:26:39

    MARTINSo the National Labor Relations Act, it protects employees' ability to come together and to mobilize around workplace issues. And the National Labor Relations Board said that includes talking about pay, that a rule forbidding you from talking about pay can be a violation of your rights through the National Labor Relations Act.

  • 13:27:00

    MARTINThe problem is that, first of all, the act doesn't protect everybody. It doesn't protect supervisors. And supervisors is defined pretty broadly to include anybody who has some sorts of management responsibilities. And the remedies under the National Labor Relations Act are not especially strong. So a lot of employers frankly aren't that worried about the potential that they might be violating that law because there's not a lot of exposure there.

  • 13:27:27

    MARTINAnd that's one reason why the executive order is so important that President Obama signed last week. It's also why the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would say explicitly that all employers can't retaliate against people who talk about their wages and salaries, why that's a really important provision because it would really strengthen that rule and make it a reality for people across the country.

  • 13:27:52

    NNAMDIFor people who want to know why the Paycheck Fairness Act that was introduced last week by Democrats in the Senate and, as you pointed out, failed, they say the Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963. Why are we still talking about this more than 50 years later? Because there were loopholes.

  • 13:28:12

    MARTINIt's a good question. It's because the -- there have been some loopholes that have been opened by courts in that act over time, and because in 50 years of experience we've seen some ways that the law needs to be stronger. So including protection against retaliation for talking about wages, the Paycheck Fairness Act, as I mentioned earlier, would also tighten this factor other than sex loophole and make clear that what that means is it's only okay to pay the man more than the woman for the same job and the same work if there's some business-related purpose for that salary differential.

  • 13:28:49

    NNAMDIWhy did it fail?

  • 13:28:51

    MARTINWell, that's a good question and I'm not sure why it failed frankly. If you look at opinion polls you'll see massive support among voters of all political stripes for strengthening equal pay laws. It's sort of as American as mom and apple pie when you ask people what they care about and what their principles and values are. It was filibustered in the Senate. It had a support of the majority of senators but unfortunately that support split on party line votes. And it's unfortunate.

  • 13:29:22

    ROSSI think unfortunately, as is true for so many things nowadays, that things become political footballs rather than really being about the merits of the issue we're dealing about and if something is perceived to be a win for the other side, then regardless of whether or not we like it. But I think that something else I just wanted to say in reference to the whole notion of employees talking about their salaries, Kojo. And that is -- and like I said, I will preface this by saying I'm a supporter of transparency in this regard. So I believe that that -- you know, people should.

  • 13:29:51

    ROSSBut I also say in all fairness to some employers that hiding discrimination is not the only reason why people might not want people talking about their salaries. You know, having people comparing salaries brings up all kinds of pettiness between individuals. And the person sitting next to me as working -- you know, why should I put in the extra hours when they're making $5,000 more a year and they're not doing it? Or how come they're making more money than I am? Or why don't we -- you know, and all of this stuff happens with employees.

  • 13:30:16

    ROSSAnd we know that we're weird about money as a culture. I mean, you go to a cocktail party...

  • 13:30:20

    NNAMDIYou talk about the sensitivity in cultural taboos that's around talking about what you make.

  • 13:30:24

    ROSSThat's right. You don't talk about religion, you don't talk about politics, you don't talk about money. And these are the things that you don't talk about. And so -- and there are also privacy issues involved. For example, if somebody -- let's say I'm working for an employer and I didn't get my raise because my performance is -- you know, I'm on a performance plan, that's something that I'm protected by human resources, for people not to be talking to everybody about the fact that I'm on a performance plan.

  • 13:30:45

    ROSSBut if you're watching my salary and seeing somebody else's salary grow and mine doesn't, then you could -- so it's -- I just don't want to -- at the same time as I would argue for transparency, I don't want us to oversimplify this and to make it seem as though there aren't reasons that are justifiable reasons to create workplace-- healthy workplace cultures that can be -- you know, get a little messy when people are comparing dollars to dollars.

  • 13:31:06

    NNAMDIHere's Sue -- go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:07

    MARTINI was just going to say, that makes sense. And I think that one important thing to be aware of when you're thinking about what the executive order did and what this legislation would do, is it doesn't require employers to publish everybody's salary and put it up on the wall. It just prevents employers from firing somebody because they were talking about their wages with their coworkers.

  • 13:31:24


  • 13:31:25

    NNAMDIOn now to Susan in Bethesda, Md. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:31

    SUSANHello. My question is, has anybody ever done a study in which went in with clearly ethnic names, visa vie African American or Asian? And what was the response for salary between women of different ethnicities, especially when you're looking at an application. I know that there's been -- people have done their self studies, changed the identity of their resume on Linked In and then all of a sudden they are getting hundreds and hundreds of calls. And I could take any response off the air. Thank you.

  • 13:32:08


  • 13:32:08

    NNAMDIYou're welcome. Susan, thank you for your call. Howard?

  • 13:32:10

    ROSSI'm sorry. Yeah, thanks Susan. Actually there are a number of studies around this. The one that's probably got the most play was by a guy named Sendhil Mullainathan who was a researcher and economist at MIT at the time and Marianne Bertrand from University of Chicago. What they did is they put together resumes for men and women, some which were they called traditionally white names, for example Gregory and Emily. Others were traditionally African American. Lakisha and Jamal, for example, were two of the names they chose.

  • 13:32:38

    ROSSAnd they sent these resumes out and interestingly enough they sent it to companies that had affirmative hiring practices, that these were -- they specifically chose companies that were looking for diversity in hiring. And 50 percent more of the names -- the white-sounding names were called back by the same -- for the same -- the same exact resumes word for word.

  • 13:32:56

    ROSSAnd I know anecdotally we had somebody who was working for us at the time as a contractor doing some web design -- or e-learning design for us. And her husband's name was Miguel. This was back in 2008, 2009 when the economy was tanking. And in the process of doing this design for her, she came across this study and shared with her husband. He had been laid off and for six months hadn't gotten a bite at all. He changed his name to Michael and in the next month got three hits.

  • 13:33:22

    ROSSSo, you know, it's just anecdotal but I've heard so many stories like that of people making name modification and getting more responses. It's a very visceral thing. No part of ourselves would -- or very few people would consciously say, I'm not hiring somebody named Lakisha or Miguel. But there's something about the way we resonate the part of us that wants to feel associated with people, that links to people that's triggered by that. That's a...

  • 13:33:46

    NNAMDICraving the familiar. Here is Zachary in Washington, D.C. Zachary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:33:51

    ZACHARYHi, Kojo. My first time calling. I've been listening for many, many years.

  • 13:33:54

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:33:55

    ZACHARYI own a small contracting company that's based in Washington, D.C. And I can see how there's -- how these small contracting order -- is it Paycheck Fairness Act would impact my business. And that is because what we normally do from a contracting standpoint is we negotiate from both sides. We have the employees come in or perspective employees come in. And they want a certain salary and we try to meet that salary. And it's totally irregardless of their gender, at least from my perspective.

  • 13:34:27

    ZACHARYBut then we take that salary and we load the salary and then we go to our customer, whether it's D.C. government, federal government or a commercial entity, and we negotiate a bill rate. So if it comes to a time where all of a sudden everyone's talking about their salaries, then it can cause a raucous with -- amongst all the employees. And all of a sudden we've got to make adjustments to the page or number of employees. But we're not allowed -- after we have negotiated our bill rate to the customer, we're not allowed to make any changes.

  • 13:35:00

    ZACHARYSo I know like for fixed price government contracts, those contracts are fixed and the companies, they will already do the factoring of the salaries of all the employees that are going to work on the contract beforehand, I mean, unless there are some provisions for the government to allow modifications to the contract where they can -- so the contracting company can...

  • 13:35:24

    NNAMDIWell, I'm not quite sure I understand your problem exactly because if it doesn't matter to you, if it's regardless of whether employees are male or female, they'll be getting the same salary for the same work, why does the government contract that you have affect that?

  • 13:35:41

    ZACHARYWell, they don't necessarily get the same salary. What they -- what we do is we have people -- one person can come in and say I want $80,000. We try to make that person happy. Another person can come in and say, I want $75,000 salary. We try to make that person happy. So there's a difference. And it doesn't matter if the two people are male or female. It's about, you know, the dollar amount.

  • 13:36:00

    NNAMDIThey negotiate how much they get with you.

  • 13:36:03

    ZACHARYWell, we try to create a win, win, win situation.

  • 13:36:06

    NNAMDIFascinating. Howard, care to comment?

  • 13:36:08

    ROSSWell, actually I refer back to what Emily said earlier when she was talking about how one thing progresses to another, you know, in a particular case. And like Zachary's talking about, you know, the issue is not -- may not be discrimination on his part. The fact that he may have certain people who's working for him have higher salaries than others actually dates back to what their salary history was.

  • 13:36:29

    ROSSAnd this is why it's very important for us to recognize that we're dealing with two things simultaneously. One is we're dealing with the individual circumstance that we have as employers or as employees in the particular environment we're in. But we're also dealing with the societal history that ends up showing up at the front door. So the person who comes in and says I need a salary of $80,000 because I've got this salary history of such and such, he may be, you know, perfectly reasonable in accommodating that as opposed to the one who asked for 70. But if you look at those people's track history over time, they may have been affected by some of the dynamics that Emily was referring to earlier.

  • 13:37:02

    MARTINAnd I think it suggests a real need to rationalize the salary-setting process at the outset so it doesn't depend so much on what I would say are fairly arbitrary factors of what a person sitting across the desk is asking for. And is tied more closely to what that person's skills are, what that person's experience is and what the needs of the workforce are. So that it's not that you can just carry your initial higher salary that you might've gotten in that first job out of college through your entire career because you got paid more before so you must need more now.

  • 13:37:38

    MARTINBut that there's some decision-making process where you really do say, is this rational or are there arbitrary gaps creeping in to how I pay my workers that aren't related to the differentials in their qualifications and their skills.

  • 13:37:52

    NNAMDIZach -- go ahead, Howard.

  • 13:37:53

    ROSSOh I was just going to say that there's another factor too which is the psychology that people -- and this of course what Sheryl Sandberg, you know, in Lean In has talked a lot about, the psychology that we bring to these things that are different. You know, for example Les Lobach is the people -- the senior people officer at Google. Just recently in a study -- or rather an article I was just talking -- just reading was talking about the fact that they found Google has apparently a process that they do for promotions, which is a volunteer process. So people can voluntarily put themselves up for a promotion if they -- or for a job opening as it comes up. And...

  • 13:38:29

    NNAMDIAnd you found in that article women did not put themselves up...

  • 13:38:33

    ROSSExactly right.

  • 13:38:34 frequently as men did.

  • 13:38:35

    ROSSThat's true. Women do not volunteer themselves for that as much as men do. Now what Google found out in looking at the research was this was not a Google issue. This is an issue across the board, that women as a rule -- the men are more self-promoting than women are as a rule. Culturally we're taught to be that way.

  • 13:38:48

    ROSSSo what they did was something really fascinating. They took the study and they sent the study out with the announcement. In other words, they told people, you have an opportunity -- everybody, you got -- by the way, you should know that there's some research that shows that women who tend to volunteer less -- as soon as they did that, the numbers -- the differences disappeared. Just knowing that that was a pattern that they needed to be aware of changed the women's behavior in that particular case.

  • 13:39:13

    MARTINAnd relatedly, in negotiating, women may be less likely to ask for the higher salary in the first place for a variety of reasons. One, because studies show that employers don't react as well when women negotiate for themselves than when men do. But one interesting finding that that reminds me of is if you tell the woman at the outset, this is negotiable, the salary's negotiable, they are just as likely to negotiate their salary as the men. You just need that extra prompt but here is a space for you. This is a thing you can do. And suddenly those gender gaps in willingness to negotiate go away.

  • 13:39:48

    NNAMDIZachary, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Sarah in Frederick, Md. Sarah, your turn.

  • 13:39:55

    SARAHOh, this conversation is hitting very close to home because my family did make the choice for me to stay home with the baby and the kids for a little while. So, yeah, I'm taking a hit in my salary. And when you were mentioning the North Carolina study where the men who had career wives chose to pay more and hire the women, it reminded me of my husband who is a career firefighter and was very against women in the fire service, until we had a daughter.

  • 13:40:24


  • 13:40:25

    SARAHAnd her career path as a firefighter -- or a firefighter princess, to be more accurate and he can't -- he doesn't want to tell her, no. You know, he's going to do everything in his power, if she wants to be a firefighter, to make sure she gets that job and is excellent at it. So it's just funny how, when it's personal, it really changes people's mindsets.

  • 13:40:45

    NNAMDIAnd, indeed, a lot of this should be personal, because we all have sisters and we all have mothers and many of us have daughters also. So it should be personal for a whole lot of us.

  • 13:40:56

    ROSSYeah, you know, I'll bet, Kojo, that if we looked back at that North Carolina study, you know, they didn't do this in the research, but my bet is that that's not even a causal factor. The causal factor is probably whether or not those men grew up with mothers who were professionals and therefore were more likely to marry people who had careers. I know my mom was, you know, my mom was a relatively high level statistician at NIH. It never occurred to me that my wife wouldn't have a career, growing up. I mean, I just -- I just assumed my wife would have a career because my mom always had a significant career.

  • 13:41:22

    NNAMDISarah, thank you so much for your call. We got an email from Kate who said, "I'm a woman serving as an officer in one of the armed services. I find the civilian culture of not discussing or knowing what fair salaries are so strange. Anyone who knows my rank, years of service, marital status and duty station zip code, can use Internet calculators to determine exactly how much I earn. This transparency allows military member to properly budget their earnings, incentivizes increasing one's rank, ensures men and women are paid the same for the same job, et cetera. If it's good enough for our military and GS employees, what is the holdup for the private sector?"

  • 13:42:00

    MARTINAnd, you know, in the federal government as well, the civilian employees, as she said, there's a great deal of pay transparency where the information is pretty public about what salary is associated with what grade and what step.

  • 13:42:12

    NNAMDIHey, all you people in the government say, what is your -- are you an 8? Oh, I know what you make.

  • 13:42:16

    MARTINExactly. And there is a smaller pay gap in the federal workforce than in the private workforce. And I suspect that that is part of it, both because of the transparency, so people know if there is a differential. But also because of the sort of rationalization of pay process, so it's not just this arbitrary set of emotional factors that are leading the decisions about how much a person is paid. And, yes, given that it does work in the military, it works in the federal workforce, it does seem that some level of transparency about what you make is compatible with a functioning employment setting.

  • 13:42:51

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have calls, stay on the line. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Do you know if you're paid the same as colleagues in a similar position? Have you ever faced pay discrimination in the workplace as a woman or a minority? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or send email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:03

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Howard Ross. He's a principal at Cook Ross and the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance," and Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women's Law Center, about pay equity in the workplace, and Sam who is in Rockville, Md. Sam, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:45:27

    SAMHi, Kojo. I'm a first-time caller. I love your show. I just wanted to make the point that the reason why pay chance actually does not exist in our workplaces in America is because employers view it as it's not in their interests. It is in the interest of employers, as they see it, to foster a workplace in which folks have to compete and in which folks are ignorant about what each other are making, because it makes it possible for them to be paid less. If we had more unionized workplaces in America, or if workplaces operated more like the federal government, that would not be the case.

  • 13:46:02

    NNAMDIWell, Sam, since you bring that up, I'll put you on hold for a second and have you listen to Megan, in Washington D.C. Megan, Maygen, which is it?

  • 13:46:14

    MAYGENIt's Maygen.

  • 13:46:15

    NNAMDIMaygen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:17

    MAYGENHi, Kojo. Thanks. I work in a unionized hospital and we have a pay scale that's really reliable, so we know how much we'll make as a brand new nurse, in five years and ten years. And there's no opportunity for discrimination in that. And so I don't think, before this past caller, anyone had talked about the benefits of being part of a union, but seeing that's huge.

  • 13:46:40

    NNAMDIMaygen, hold for a second. Let me see what Sam has to say about that. Sam, is that the very point that you were making?

  • 13:46:46

    SAMThat is the very point I was making. I happen to be a union staffer at an international union in Washington D.C. And this is a point that we make when we organize. The fact of the matter is, in a unionized workplace, workers are on an equal basis with their employer in terms of negotiating for terms and wages and conditions of employment. And this is a -- this enables us to have pay chance guarantee. It's better for women. It's better for all workers. And the employers know that, Kojo. And that's why -- that is exactly why they don't want to allow workers to have pay chance guarantee in the workplace. And that works against women and all workers.

  • 13:47:22

    NNAMDISam, Maygen, thank you both for your calls. But there's a bigger picture here, Emily Martin. Many economists point out that transparency is good for the economy. By giving people more information, they can make better choices. It makes for a healthier, more efficient economy they say. I guess, as Sam was saying, companies see it differently.

  • 13:47:42

    MARTINWell, it's definitely true that, in general, economists think that markets function better with more perfect information. And so information about salaries and about wages is part of that, as workers make decisions about where to go, that that should be better for economically rational decisions to be made by workers and by employers. And the point about unionization is a great one, because data shows that, yes, there's a wage premium associated with being part of a union, that your wages go up. That is a larger effect for women than for men.

  • 13:48:16

    MARTINAnd the wage gap is smaller for unionized workers than for non-unionized workers. So it's absolutely the case that the sorts of protection that Maygen and Sam are talking about really do have a gender dimension -- that it really matters for women and for the salaries that women are taking home.

  • 13:48:33

    NNAMDIWhat are some ways to address this natural sensitivity around revealing our salary? Howard?

  • 13:48:40

    ROSSWell, I mean, I think one thing is that when the normative behavior around you is that your salary is revealed, as in the case of the military -- the caller or the writer who wrote in about the military -- or in the cases of union environments, we begin to notice that it becomes a nonissue, because everybody knows what we make and it's no longer an issue. I know, I don't think there's any question, look, we even say that information is power. You know, we hear that all the time and that the more information one person has in any negotiating framework, whatever it is, the better shape they're in, in terms of the negotiation.

  • 13:49:15

    ROSSBut it's all built on a misnomer. And the misnomer is that for many employers, that they believe, if I can keep people kind of on their toes and not knowing what's going on, I have more control over the situation. However, the reality is that when people are left with that uncertainty, they tend to team less and work -- and look out for their individual differences more. They tend to not feel as secure and therefore not as loyal to organizations and therefore not as productive.

  • 13:49:39

    ROSSAnd what all the new research about motivation shows, is that all that stuff works if you're in a very mindless sort of repetitive task. So if you're paying people to pick up trash bags, for example, outside and all they do is get paid for it, fine, you could pay them as many trash bags as they pick up. But if you're paying people for creative work, what the current research on motivation shows is that people are far more productive when they have a stable sense of what they're making and what they're going to make and when that's taken off the table.

  • 13:50:07

    ROSSAnd so the kinds of environments that we're talking about actually create far more stability in terms -- and then we can still get irritated with our fellow employees for other reasons, but at least we're not worrying about what they're making versus what I'm making.

  • 13:50:18

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you discuss your salary with coworkers? If so, why or why not? 800-433-8850. Here is Ken in Gaithersburg, Md. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:50:31

    KENSure. I wanted to put this into historical context. This actually goes back to the beginnings and even the glimmerings of the industrial revolution. And really we are very, very influenced by the way both the English and the Dutch handled the -- really part of the industrial revolution, where they forbade discussion of things like wages and such. And even the social environment considered it crude to be discussing wages. And we, unfortunately, inherited some of that sensibility. And it, of course, does to the advantage of the employer.

  • 13:51:15

    NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Howard?

  • 13:51:17

    ROSSWell, I think it's like we talked about earlier, you know? You don't go into a party and say, hey, how much do you make? It's not -- it's just not part of our culture. And so it's there, certainly in the background.

  • 13:51:27

    MARTINI think, again, it's one of the reasons why pay discrimination often is very hard for employees to recognize. It's also why, though, it's really important for there to be good incentives for employers to be looking at these questions, to be looking at whether they're paying their employees fairly and equally and appropriately, responding to differences in qualifications or productivity.

  • 13:51:50

    MARTINAnd that's one reason why it's important to have really strong fair pay laws, so the right incentives are in place for employers to do this sort of self evaluation, because it's always going to be hard for the employee to say to her coworker, "How much do you make?" and to make that comparison on her own.

  • 13:52:04

    NNAMDIThis question is for both of you. How would someone go about finding out whether he or she is underpaid? And what happens if you can prove pay discrimination?

  • 13:52:14

    ROSSWell, I think, depending on your circumstance in organizations, some organizations -- more and more organizations are monitoring themselves. They're having, in their HR structure, some way that they can follow these practices, because they want to know, first of all. And many organizations are committed to fairness and equity in their organization. To be fair, you know, not everybody out there who's an employer is trying to sneak one by on people. And then, some places, people have -- and Emily's probably more familiar than I am about this -- have a legal right to find certain information.

  • 13:52:44

    MARTINRight. So, yes, as an employee, if you're concerned about where you stand, I think it's perfectly reasonable to start by asking your supervisors and managers that question. How do I stand? How do I stack up? Where should I be? Am I where I should be? And while it's a hard conversation, obviously having conversations with coworkers can be really useful in figuring that out as well, though there are plenty of social reasons why that's difficult to do. One good thing about the Internet is there's better and better information out in the world about what other people make in a particular job.

  • 13:53:19

    MARTINSo that also can be really helpful. Again, as Howard said, information is power in these conversations. And getting a sense of across a particular sector, where you stand, is an important one. And if you are threatened with some sort of disciplinary action for having these conversations -- because we talked about the National Labor Relations Act does protect employees rights to talk collectively about these questions -- and so there may be legal protections. And, of course, if you work for a federal contractor now, you're going to have explicit legal protections to have those conversations, which is a huge step forward.

  • 13:53:56

    NNAMDIOkay. Carolyn in Fairfax, Va., your turn, Carolyn.

  • 13:54:00

    CAROLYNHi, Kojo. When I -- now, I'm older. So my first job was in 1967, after I graduated from college with an engineering degree, and I was paid $6,000 a year. When I left that job, I -- the fellow that replaced me was paid $12,000 a year. And I asked why. And they said, because you can't expect to support a family on $6,000 a year. I must say that much of my career I was paid less than my cohorts. And it was kind of, you know, we're letting you, as a woman, work here.

  • 13:54:38

    CAROLYNAnd, you know, you're going to have to prove that you can fit in, so to speak. And one of the ways is by taking less money. But I'm very, very encouraged that things are better than they were, certainly not perfect. It's going to be awhile longer until women have the courage to go ahead and stand up and say, you know, I deserve it. But when I look at my daughter-in-laws, it looks like things are coming along.

  • 13:55:08

    NNAMDIOkay, I was about to ask you that question, Carolyn, if you thought you would get the same response today as you did in 1967. I suspect not. Thank you for your call. We got an email from Sally who said, "Thanks for talking about the challenges women face in requesting higher salaries. At my previous job, I did request a raise and a promotion, and I was actually successful in getting it. However, it came at a cost. I ended up being viewed as aggressive and pushy and saw a drop in my performance reviews in the areas of interpersonal skills. I'm now afraid to ask for a raise at my new job, because I'm worried about seeing the same backlash.

  • 13:55:43

    ROSSAnd this is exactly the sociocultural patterns I'm talking about. You know, for those of us who grew up in the "Leave It to Beaver" generation, in our mind -- and you can actually look at this in the brain, in the amygdale there's a link between women and those domestic roles and women being nice, women acting in a particular way -- and when a woman asserts herself in that way, all of a sudden, I may have to give in to her, but I have this certain feeling about that.

  • 13:56:04

    ROSSAnd, Kojo, there's one more point I wanted to make just before we run out of time, and that is that, we've been talking about this today relative to gender, but it is just important to note that there's also an intersectionality of other things here, that white women's experience is different from the experience of women of color. And women of color, of course, have a double bind to deal with, and also not just where race is concerned, but where culture is concerned.

  • 13:56:24

    ROSSFor example, if you come from certain Asian cultures where the notion of a woman being assertive and asking for something would be very frowned upon culturally, it puts you at a real advantage in a workplace, even if somebody is open to somebody coming to you and making a request. Your grandfather's voice is in you telling you not to do that. And it's just important, I think, for those of us who are employers, to keep all of these things in mind when we're dealing with our employees and to have a nuanced rather than a simplistic version of how this plays in place...

  • 13:56:52

    NNAMDILet's not even get into hair styles in the military. Emily, you point out that raising the minimum wage itself may help close the gender pay gap.

  • 13:57:03

    MARTINIt would definitely have an effect on the wage gap. So women are about two-thirds of minimum wage workers. The tip minimum wage is even lower, it's only $2.13 an hour. It hasn't gone up in 20 years. And women are about three-quarters of those in the tipped professions. So women are overrepresented among those lowest paid workers in the workforce. And, in fact, if you look at states, because some states have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum wage -- those states that have higher minimum wages, tend to have a somewhat smaller pay gap than the states that have the $7.25 minimum wage.

  • 13:57:37

    MARTINSo we actually have data that shows that, yes, when you raise the floor, that's good for lots of reasons. One of the reasons is that it helps get at some of this gender inequality. And I also wanted to just respond to the...

  • 13:57:49

    NNAMDIYou've got 10 seconds.

  • 13:57:50

    MARTIN...story about overt discrimination. We've talked a lot about subconscious bias today. But you still hear those overt statements in the workplace, too. So I don't want to suggest that we're over that. That you never hear, well, women don't need the money, because they're not really supporting the family.

  • 13:58:02

    NNAMDIThey don't have to support a family. Emily Martin is vice president and general counsel of the National Women's Law Center. Thank you for joining us. Howard Ross is a principal at Cook Ross and the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:58:28

    NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," they may be late adopters, but millions of older Americans are online and using technology to stay in touch and even get out more. "Tech Tuesday" explores the challenges seniors face using new devices. Then at 1:00, "Technology and the Brain," how reading online may be shortening our attention spans and making good old-fashioned books a challenge. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," Noon till 2:00 tomorrow, on WAMU 88.5, and streaming at

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