The Gender Wage Gap is Real. And Legislators Can Do Something About It.

We can all agree that women deserve equal pay for equal work. Yet, that is not always the reality. Despite laws that are supposed to prevent discrimination, outdated workplace policies allow the cycle of wage disparities to continue, often in secret. As research shows, the gender wage gap exists – and it’s holding back Ohio women and families from reaching their full economic potential. 

Women make up 48% of Ohio’s labor force, and families are increasingly dependent on the wages of women as they are more and more likely to be sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their households. In fact, 85 percent of Black mothers, 62 percent of Latina mothers and 53 percent of white mothers are key breadwinner for their families. Pay discrimination means that these families are losing valuable financial support and women are being held back from reaching their full economic potential – something that would help Ohio’s economy thrive, too.

On average, women working full-time in Ohio still make just 75 cents for every dollar their male colleagues receive, amounting to an annual wage gap of $12,686. And the gender wage gap is even larger for women of color: Black women are paid, on average, 64 cents and and Latinas paid, on average, just 61 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This gap is significant, and studies show that it exists for several reasons that allow gender and racial disparities to affect pay. 

Bottom line: the wage gap is real. But legislators can do something about it. In fact, there are a number of bills pending in the Ohio Legislature that would take steps to address the gender wage gap:

  • HB 138 (Smith, Boyd) – Wage Discrimination: Creates an equal pay discrimination hotline where workers could anonymously report instances of alleged wage discrimination.
  • HB 180 (Clyde, Howse) – Equal Pay: Establishes the Ohio Equal Pay Act to create protections for closing the wage gap, such as prohibiting an employer from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries or wages.
  • HB 385 (West) – Wage Information: Prohibits a state agency from preventing employees from discussing their own wages or another employee’s wages and prohibits retaliation against an employee who has discussed wages. It also prohibits a state agency from seeking the wage or salary history of a job candidate. Many of these issues the bill addresses are the reason for gender pay discrimination and the gender wage gap.
  • HB 403 (Howse, Kelly) – Equal Pay: Creates a Gender Pay Disparity Task Force to address pay inequality.
  • SB 174 (Tavares) – Wage Requirements: Enacts the Fair and Acceptable Income Required (FAIR) Act, which would update state laws to help protect against wage discrimination.

And last week, the House Economic Development, Commerce, and Labor Committee held a second hearing on House Bill 385 to hear from supporters of the legislation, which targets some of the specific policies that allow the wage gap to persist and hurt families’ yearly earning potential. HB 385 gets to the root of many of the problems that perpetuate the gender wage gap and makes a commitment to study the long-term effects of the issue.

First off, it prohibits state agencies from seeking an applicant’s salary history, a hiring practice that disproportionately hurts women and people of color. Many employees are asked for their salary history during the hiring process, which perpetuates racial and gender pay disparities. Women, and especially women of color, are more likely to have previously been payed less or worked in traditionally female-dominated fields where their work is undervalued. Many women have employment history that is affected by taking time off to serve as a caregiver, either for a new child or an ailing family member. When they return to the workforce, asking for salary history does not reflect the current conditions of the marketplace and penalizes women for their role as a caregiver. Requiring salary history means women are more likely to be continuously paid less than the market value of their employment would demand.

Secondly, the bill would prohibit state agencies from retaliating against employees who discuss pay, promoting transparency within agencies and eliminating the ability for silent discrimination practices. While it is legal for employees to discuss work and pay freely amongst themselves, employers often verbally discourage employees from discussing their salaries or explicitly ban it through company policies intended to promote “cooperation”. Keeping salaries secret is particularly harmful for women, who often don’t realize they are being discriminated against or have no evidence to confirm it if they suspect that they are.  

Finally, HB 385 would establish the Wage Disparity Study Commission. The wage gap is recognized as an issue in our workplaces, and yet it persists and is not expected to lessen in the near future. By establishing this commission, Ohio would show that they are committed not just to talking about the problem, but in studying and implementing effective solutions to it.

House Bill 385 takes some concrete steps towards closing the wage gap in Ohio, starting with state employees. Our Managing Director, Erin Ryan, testified in support of the bill, recognizing the importance the bill will have on the wage gap:

“Studies show that the gender wage gap exists for a number of reasons, including the unfair and discriminatory hiring practices HB 385 addresses. Because of this persisting wage gap, the full economic potential of women and their families is stifled. Failing to provide equal pay not only impacts women’s paychecks, but also has longer term impacts on women’s wealth attainment, investment, and retirement savings…This legislation [HB 385] would make important strides in establishing fairer and better hiring practices – for applicants and employers – and contribute greatly to closing the gender wage, which holds back women – particularly women of color – and their families from reaching their full economic potential.”

You can read Erin’s full testimony here.

While there is a greater understanding of the wage gap and it’s implications on women, families, and the economy, there is often a disconnect between how to effectively close the gap. House Bill 385 would positively impact state workplaces and support women, families, and Ohio’s economy.  This bill would take important steps in eliminating the conditions that allow pay disparities to continue, but it needs to move out of committee first. 

Use our letter-writing tool to contact members of the House Economic Development, Commerce & Labor Committee, and urge them to support the legislation.