It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.
I have been lucky in my life in many ways, none more so than being the father of three daughters, the brother of three sisters, and the son of a very strong Italian mother. To be surrounded and inspired by these women all my life, and to share their struggles, their triumphs and their joys has not only brought me great happiness, but has enabled me to appreciate the part gender often plays in the course of a person’s life. But it is not only because of family that I consider myself a feminist and support women’s equality. It is because, to me, even if I were not a father, a brother, or a son, supporting women’s rights is common sense, and everyone, no matter their gender, should make it a priority.
When my girls graduate college and enter the workforce, I, like virtually all fathers, want them to be paid equally for their work with wages determined only by skill and ability. They deserve a workplace free of sexual harassment, and the right and power to make decisions for themselves where their health and reproductive choices are concerned. All women deserve equal pay, a safe work environment, and reproductive choice. Unfortunately, many women in our country are not guaranteed these basic rights.
In the United States, women still make only 80 cents for every dollar made by men. Over their lifetime, female high school graduates earn $700,000 less than male high school graduates, female college graduates earn $1.2 million less than their male counterparts, and women with professional degrees earn a staggering $2 million less than men with the same degrees. And the gap is worse for women of color: African American women make only 66 cents, Latina women only 55 cents and Native American women merely 50 cents for every dollar made by white, non-Hispanic men.
When women succeed, we all succeed, and when women are paid more, our entire economy thrives.
In New York, women earn a median salary of $46,208, well under the median male salary of $52,124. This puts New York’s wage gap at the narrowest in the nation. Yet the fact that women make 89 percent of what men make, compared to 80 percent nationally, is not something to celebrate. It instead shows that we still have a long way to go in supporting women’s equality and creating equitable workplaces both in New York and across the country.
Pay inequality is not an issue just for women, it is an issue for parents like myself who care about their daughters’ futures, for husbands and boyfriends who rely on their female partners to help pay for rent or for groceries, and for children whose primary caretakers are their mothers. In half of America’s households, mothers are the primary if not the only breadwinners. What is already a challenging situation for these households is made all the worse when they have to scrape by on salaries 20 percent lower than those of men.
Eliminating the wage gap is one of my top priorities as Governor of New York. The reason is simple: when women succeed, we all succeed, and when women are paid more, our entire economy thrives.
But in this uncertain political climate, women understandably feel that their rights are in jeopardy. If you’re frightened, you are not alone — it is true that women’s rights, from health care to equal pay, are under attack. Ultraconservatives in Washington pose an unsettling threat to individual rights and American values. But in New York, as they pull on women’s rights, we push back. New York is a powerful state with resources, and we know it is important to stand up and do everything we can to protect individual rights. It is not up to women alone to stand up for themselves; we are all allies in the effort to create a more equitable society. All states — not just New York — now have the opportunity and the responsibility to take the lead in promoting policies that benefit women and promote their equality through legislation and executive action.
Our New York Promise to Women agenda strives to guarantee equal rights for women. Our policies aim to create conditions that allow women to be able to participate in a workforce historically dominated by men by ensuring equal pay, fair paid family leave policies, and a safe working environment.
This past January, I signed two executive orders to help eliminate New York’s wage gap. One prohibits state entities from evaluating candidates based on their prior salary or asking prospective employees their wage history; the other requires state contractors to disclose data on the gender, race, ethnicity, job title, and salary of all employees. With these requirements, the State can make sure that none of the companies with which it does business are violating equal pay laws, and can make sure companies understand how their hiring practices are perpetuating the wage gap.
Another important measure we enacted prohibits employers from firing or suspending employees for discussing their pay. Some companies used this underhanded tactic to keep women from comparing notes about their salaries, which was perhaps the only way they could learn if they were being subjected to discrimination. That was the case with Lilly Ledbetter, who famously did not know, for decades, that she was paid less than her male colleagues at Goodyear. Her name now graces President Obama’s 2009 fair pay legislation.
Just last year, we tackled two economic issues that disproportionately affect women. Workers who earn the minimum wage are predominantly women, many of whom support children. Because the minimum wage in New York was not enough to enable even a full time worker to live above the poverty line, we raised it to $15 an hour.
We also passed the most comprehensive paid family leave policy in the country. This policy will allow women to take off up to twelve weeks after childbirth or to care for a sick loved one without fear of losing pay or even being fired.
It is my hope that these equal pay policies, along with other recent actions to protect reproductive choice, prevent sexual assault on college campuses, help victims of domestic abuse, and stop sexual harassment will make New York an example for other states to follow in promoting and protecting equality. Equal pay isn’t just a women’s issue, neither is paid family leave or the minimum wage. These are issues that impact everyone, and we need to keep pushing forward because in New York we know what is right and fair.
And believe me, I know that women are entitled by right, intellect, ambition and leadership to the same salary as any man.