Panel Discussion at Rodef Shalom Tackles the ‘Pay Gap’

Written by Suzanne Pollak on . Posted in Community News

On Feb. 10, panelists agreed that 100 years after women obtained the right to vote, they still are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work and continue to suffer a motherhood penalty. The event, called The Gender Pay Gap and You, took place at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia. The speakers connected Judaism with pay equity as well, citing the Bible’s call for fair and timely payment of workers.

The panelists included Temple Rodef Shalom’s Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein; Deborah Vagins, senior vice president of public policy at the American Association of University Women (AAUW); Sarah David Heydemann, a workplace justice fellow at the National Women’s Law Center; Michelle McGrain, federal affairs manager at the National Partnership for Women & Families; and Faith Williams, senior manager of government affairs at the National Council of Jewish Women.

The gender pay gap is the difference between the gross hourly earnings for all men and the gross hourly earnings for all women. Typically, it is measured as a percentage of men's pay. Equal pay is defined as being paid the same amount for the same work. Where the gender pay gap concerns itself with the difference in sex, equal pay concerns itself with difference in actual work done.

Pay inequity persists even though women have become more educated and are staying in the workplace longer, Vagins said. The inequity impacts more than just salaries, she added, it carries over to the amount of social security and disability payments a woman receives since they are based on lifelong earnings.

One way to end gender pay inequity is to have salaries made public in the office, said Vagins. The federal government, for instance, has a wage transparency policy and lists its salaries for others to see. That makes it harder for the federal government to pay men higher wages than women when they have roughly the same education and work experience. As a result, the wage gap among male and female federal workers is only 11 cents, she said.

Vagins also wants to stop employers from basing the salary of new hires on their previous wages, which perpetuates the gap, she said. Montgomery County is on its way to doing just that. Councilmember Evan Glass recently introduced a bill that would stop the county from asking for the previous pay stubs of new hires.

Heydemann called transparency “absolutely the key piece” in ending the gender pay gap. Once employees know what their coworkers are making, managers will not be able to get away with underpaying a particular group.

The Trump Administration halted efforts to keep wages in the open a year ago when it “halted pay data collection,” she said. Heydemann also favors raising the minimum wage for all employees, including the wait staff, as another way to lessen the salary gap.

Although panelists and audience members seemed to favor wage transparency, not everyone does.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, some employers fear that when employees discover they earn less money than some of their coworkers, their morale will drop and they may become dissatisfied enough to leave. Those opposed to wage transparency are afraid it “could spark jealousy among employees and reduce the number of staffers a company can hire,” said Stephanie Penner, a senior partner at the consulting firm Mercer.


A Prize or a Penalty for Becoming a Parent?

Another problem panelists discussed is the “motherhood penalty”: the expectation among employers and/or fellow employees that women care more about their growing family than their job. Men, on the other hand, receive a fatherhood bonus, said Vagins, as employers try to compensate them for becoming the larger breadwinner in the family.

Wage discrimination “affects all women in all jobs,” said Andrea Stillman, a synagogue board member. She recalled when she took off time to have a child, her company chose three male managers to cover her responsibilities, awarding one of those managers with a larger salary than Stillman was making.

Soon after her return, company officials promoted five of its seven directors to senior director. Stillman and the only other female remained as directors. As if that wasn’t insulting enough, it resulted in her receiving far fewer stock options than the men, she recalled.

“I was told only women would put their family before their work,” she said.

McGrain expects the wage gap to close as more and more men to take time off to care for a new child or an ailing loved one. In many families, it’s the woman who becomes the caregiver, thereby reducing her long-range salary when she misses promotions and wage hikes, she said.

Closing the two-hour discussion, Williams told the mostly female audience that what they learned today was the first step.

“The second step is to have these conversations around the dinner table” and with your friends. “Share what you learned today. There is strength in numbers.”

By Suzanne Pollak


Suzanne Pollak is the senior writer/editor at Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington. She was a reporter at The Courier Post in New Jersey and The Washington Jewish Week, and she now writes for The Montgomery Sentinel.