This Equal Pay Day, Lets All Be Peggy Olson

Originally Posted on

In Episode 305 of Mad Men, Peggy Olson shows up at Don Draper’s office with a serious matter to discuss. She sits down across from him, folds her hands, and begins:

She’s thankful for her meteoric rise at Sterling Cooper, and for Don Draper’s hand in it as her boss cum mentor. But her success is not enough. Peggy is still making less money than her male co-workers. Something has changed though, and she believes she now has a powerful weapon to protect her from pay discrimination: she has legislation.

“I don’t know if you’ve read in the papers,” she says, “But there’s a law now that says men and women who do the same thing will get paid the same. Equal pay.”

Peggy Olson and I are about the same age. And Peggy Olson doesn’t get that raise she deserves because, like me, she works in a system where she is not protected by our current equal pay legislation. But for all of the similarities between us, there’s one big difference: Peggy Olson is living in 1963. Somehow, 47 years later, we’re fighting the same battle.

Women have made tremendous strides in the workplace since 1963. We now equal men in the workforce, outnumber them on college campuses, and act as breadwinners or co-breadwinners for 2/3 of American families. But like Peggy Olson, that success has not been adequately represented in our paychecks. American women currently make 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man.

The current wage gap between men and women who are employed full time is $10,662.00. And ladies, there’s no way to escape it. Think you’re on an equal playing field fresh out of college? According to AAUW, one year out of college, women are already making less than their male colleagues. After ten years out of college, women earn 69% as much as men. Did you choose a traditionally male or high-paying field? Data shows that there is no college major or field that will allow you to avoid the pay gap. Have you worked for years but recently become a mother? Be forewarned, motherhood comes with a price: mothers, on average, make less than women without children.

What would your life be like with an extra $10,662.00? What kind of retirement could you look forward? How would your budget look with $10,662.00 less of student loans? Or $10,662.00 to put towards a home for your family? Could that money help you go back to school? Could it let you start a family earlier? Could it alleviate the mind-bending stress of debt, bills, and a recession with no clear end in sight?

I suggest you ask yourself these questions and really think about the answers. And then I suggest that you do what I did after completing that exercise: get angry. And take that anger and be like Peggy Olson: Stand up for the equal pay you deserve.

Okay, so you can’t march into Don Draper’s office. But there is something you can do. This Equal Pay Day, urge your Senators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a much needed update to the Equal Pay Act that would create systems and tools to offer women legal protection from pay discrimination. This important legislation, supported by MomsRising and many other organizations, would prohibit retaliation against workers who discuss or disclose pay information, and would create stronger incentives for employers to obey the Equal Pay Act. Tell your Senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Lets work towards a world where our daughters don’t have a Fair Pay Day, and where the Equal Pay problems that faced women in the 1960s don’t feel relevant. This Fair Pay Day, lets celebrate by asking our Senators to work hard to make it the last Fair Pay Day. Support the Paycheck Fairness Act today!


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  1. leeders
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Here are my problems with the act:
    * It allows punitive damages. If you get paid $20k and someone else gets paid $50k it obviously makes sense to allow you to get compensation for the $30k shortfall plus your costs. I’m not sure it makes sense for you to get $100k, make a profit, and actually end up being paid more than them post-lawsuit. That doesn’t seem very equal.
    * It eliminate the establishment defence. That’s to do with what equal pay comparisons are legitimate. If two people are typists doing the same job working in New York then you can claim equal pay. If one’s working in New York and the other is in Texas then the establishment defence means you can maintain unequal pay – because of the different locations. I think paying different rates to do the same job at different locations is okay. I don’t see what’s wrong with a location premium.

  2. Dawn.
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. Petition signed and e-mailed to others. Hopefully we will no longer be able to relate to Peggy Olsen soon.

  3. ssalcedo
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    This may seem daft, but can someone please explain to me how it is possible that women are still only making 77 cents to every dollar than a man makes? I understand that there may be more men in higher paid positions, but when it comes to a man making more than a woman who is working the same job isn’t that exactly what the Equal Pay Act was supposed to eliminate? Why are employers not held accountable?

    Posted April 20, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s important to note that the 77 cents figure isn’t normalized for field of employment, service time, experience, responsibilities, duties or even hours worked. It’s a simple comparison of the average wages of men and women who work full time. As such, it is much more indicative of the different types of life and career choices that men and women tend to make than any sort of current, ongoing wage discrimination based on gender.
    The 77 cents number, which is actually pretty noisy and goes up and down from year to year, has a lot of value with respect to the relative economic power of men and women, but it’s not very useful for understanding the current state of pay bias with respect to gender. Using in this context is at best disingenuous since the author leads the reader to infer that the 23% pay disparity is for men and women who do approximately the same work, which isn’t true at all.

  5. alawyer
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    ssalcedo–the 77 cents on the dollar statistic is based on comparing the median full-time woman employee to the median full-time male employee. Raw pay discrimination (by which I mean paying equally qualified women less for the same work) is a relatively minor factor: when you control for occupation, experience, seniority, education, and hours worked, the pay gap disappears, or at least the vast majority of it does.
    The difference in pay has more to do with structural discrimination: lower pay for pink-collar jobs, work requirements based on the assumption of an “ideal worker” with a full-time servant who takes care of the household and the kids, social expectations that discourage women from going into science and engineering jobs, workplace cultures of machismo and sexual harassment, and so forth.
    Raw pay discrimination still exists, but in terms of the overall gender pay gap it’s a relatively minor factor. Stricter antidiscrimination laws will make a big difference in the lives of women who suffer raw pay discrimination, but they won’t do much about the 77-cent figure in the aggregate. A fix there is going to require structural changes to economic expectations and social norms that disadvantage women.
    The only legislative fix I can think of that would do much about the 77-cent figure would be to mandate comparable worth pay, which would help deal with the issue of lower pay for pink-collar jobs. Comparable worth is a political nonstarter in the U.S. and I don’t think it would be a good idea for other reasons, but it would probably make a dent in the pay gap.
    Otherwise I think the sort of activism that’s required to deal with this issue is more social than legislative. Eliminating the institutional expectations that leave women doing the bulk of unpaid home labor would help, for example, but there’s no legislative agenda that’s going to do much about that.

  6. Gesyckah
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    There’s a great book called “Women Don’t Ask” which explains a lot of the pay gap. Young men taking their first job are more likely to ask for a higher salary. Since they start with the higher salary (and ask for higher and more frequent raises than women) they stay ahead in pay for future positions. There’s nothing illegal about paying someone more if they negotiate a higher starting salary than their co-worker.
    Equal pay and affirmative action laws were put in place to stop organizations from overtly placing White men in certain positions and everyone else in others. That’s about all they do. There are a lot of self-fulfilling prophecies about provider/caregiver, clerical/managerial, manual/non-manual work and workers that are stopping true pay equity and equal employment opportunity.

  7. Gemma Seymour
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    I wonder, did this author of this post actually read the AAUW report? According to the report, the actual wage gap that is unaccounted for by other factors is 5% at one year out of college, and 12% ten years out. I would also note that that same 5% wage gap is actually in favor of women in engineering fields, yet is still represented as “parity”, but somehow, at the end of the day, the same 5% difference across all fields is represented as a “gap”. This is a far, far cry from the numbers given in the article. Let’s have a little better journalistic integrity, please. Incorrect reportage does no one any good, and this issue is far more complex than many women have been led to believe. It is also pleasing to note that the report does a fairly good job of discussing how wage disparities can also negatively affect men.

  8. evanpovich
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    What is the underlying purpose behind lower pay for women? Women can do their work at their job just as good if not better than any other man in the same job position within the company.

  9. OklahomaExile
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    They are held accountable – the “77 cents to the dollar” figure can be misleading inasmuch as it makes it sound like women are being paid less than men in given, identical jobs. This is, in fact, what the law prevents, and while it does happen occasionally I’m sure, the legal penalties are significant enough that women DO have recourse if they are given less pay for the same job.
    The “77 cents to the dollar” refers to the *median* pay across all jobs, which is something else entirely. A law, or small set of laws, can serve to rectify the situation when women are paid less for doing the same work. What a simple law cannot do is change the culture so that women are sidetracked into less financially-rewarding careers, or penalized financially for motherhood, etc. So, no, passing a new act cannot and will not fix the situation that is specifically addressed in this no-doubt well-meaning article.

  10. Dawn.
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t aware of these two details of the bill, thank you for bringing that up leeders. I wholeheartedly agree with your second point. I don’t see what’s wrong with location premiums, considering that living expenses are often vastly different from state-to-state. It makes sense and doesn’t seem discriminatory so I also don’t understand why they would seek to end that practice.
    I can understand why they would allow for punitive damages, and I don’t have a problem with that per se. But I don’t believe someone should be compensated wildly in regards to punitive damages. If the disparity were $30K, and someone received $40K, that’s reasonable to me. $100K is not.

  11. women make news
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wondered what’s INSIDE the Paycheck Fairness act. A lawyer expert in the field, Deborah Brake wrote it up in detail and you can find it here
    fyi, under the current laws:
    race-based pay discrimination offers more remedies than gender-based complaints
    prior pay can be an allowable defense, which just reinforces unequal pay

  12. iglidante
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t like what you’re implying here – that women are inherently better workers than men by default. It’s an ignorant assumption.

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