Why Obama's Executive Order Against Pay Secrecy Matters

On April 8, 2014, President Obama signed the Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information into law. This executive order prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their wages and salaries, but even if you don't work for the government, it's part of a trend that could affect your working life.

(Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com/Flickr)

The purpose of the executive order is to prevent federal contractors from paying some workers less than others, based on factors not related to their job performance, skills, or experience. For example, the law makes it harder for government employers to discriminate against female employees by offering them a lower salary than male employees.


Not everyone thinks the law is necessary, however.

"Some say we need another new federal statute to protect women from wage discrimination," writes Gerald D. Skoning at The Palm Beach Post. "They claim that the existing panoply of federal and state laws prohibiting pay discrimination on the basis of gender are insufficient. To the contrary, vigorous enforcement of existing laws, not enactment of more, wholly unnecessary laws, is the answer to existing gender-based wage disparities."

And that's not the only criticism of the executive order. A memorandum from Kirsten Kukowski, RNC National Press Secretary argues that employees freely discussing pay hinders employers' ability to offer merit-based compensation. However, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 clarifies employers' rights to offer different pay based on numerous reasons, including job performance, experience, and more.

Lilly Ledbetter

If an employer is paying workers based upon years of experience, productivity, and job performance, then they have nothing to hide. They should not fear employee conversations about their compensation. On the contrary, if a worker gets a raise for doing something well, it may act as a catalyst for more workers to do their very best at their jobs.

As we said earlier, one way employers get away with paying women less than men for the same work is by prohibiting workers from discussing their pay with each other. If a woman does not know she is making less than her male counterparts for the same work, she is unlikely to complain about it.

The devastating and inspiring case of Lilly Ledbetter illustrates how older laws protecting women from workplace discrimination are not enough. Lilly Ledbetter, a former employee of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., was paid up to 40 percent less than her male counterparts for almost 20 years. She sued when she first discovered this discrepancy, 19 years after her first day at Goodyear. Ledbetter lost at the Supreme Court level because she didn't file suit within 180 days of her first paycheck.

The first law President Obama signed when he took office was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to change the definition of the statute of limitations on equal-pay lawsuits. Thanks to the Act, workers who feel they were discriminate against based on race, religion, sex, or national origin now have 180 days from the each instance of discrimination to file suit -- for example, the last time they were issued an unfair paycheck, not their date of hire.

Obama's executive order continues this trend of protecting workers from discrimination. Hopefully, this move toward pay transparency will prevent more cases like Lilly Ledbetter's.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been paid less for the same work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Male Matters 08 May
    Six months after I, a man, was hired by a finance company in the mid-1960s, a man was hired to do the exact same thing that I did -- at a higher salary than what mine was at the time. 

    The company had a policy of salary confidentiality. (Workers discuss their salaries despite the policy.) The policy's purpose was to enable employers to woo from other companies prospective employees who the company thought would be star performers. 

    That went on in the "Mad Men" era, and it goes on now. What women will find out, if salary secrecy is banned, is that they make more than some men, and some men make less than some other men -- all doing the exact same work right next to each other, elbow to elbow.

    Here's what Obama and the Democrats don't want anyone to know about women, men, and the wage gap:

    In general, women not only live longer and enjoy better health than men, who die sooner and at a higher rate of the 12 leading causes of death, they also control most of consumer spending and most of the nation's wealth. Soon they will control even more.

    "Over the next decade, women will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and be the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in our country’s history. Estimates range from $12 to $40 trillion. Many Boomer women will experience a double inheritance windfall, from both parents and husband." -http://www.she-conomy.com/facts-on-women

    Does this sound like the oppressed group -- the longer-living, healthier, wealthier group -- that Obama and the Democrats would have you believe women are?

    Regarding women's "77 cents to men's dollar for the same work," I suspect that many if not most of pay-equity advocates think employers are greedy profiteers who'd hire only illegal immigrants for their lower labor cost if they could get away with it. Or who'd move their business to a cheap-labor country to save money. Or replace older workers with younger ones for the same reason. So why do these same advocates think employers would NOT hire only women if, as they say, employers DO get away with paying females at a lower rate than males for the same work?

    Here's one of countless examples showing that some of the most sophisticated women in the country choose to earn less while getting paid at the same rate as their male counterparts:

    “In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/03/26/bil10326.htm 

    A thousand laws won't close that gap.

    In fact, no law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap - tinyurl.com/74cooen), not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not the 1991 Glass Ceiling Commission created by the Civil Rights Act, not the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, not the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, not the Americans with Disability Act (Title I), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the thousands of company mentors for women, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, not TV's and movies' last two decades of casting women as thoroughly integrated into the world of work (while making the huge mistake of rarely casting men as integrated into the world of children: malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/in-movies-dads-not-treated-as-equals-to-moms/), not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is another feel-good bill that turned into another do-nothing law (political intentions disguised as good intentions do not necessarily make things better, and sometimes make things worse), not a "paycheck fairness" law, and not a salary transparency law enacted by Obama's executive order. 

    That's because women's pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women's equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier....” at tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed a higher percentage of women is staying at home, perhaps it's because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working outside the home if they're going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman, as illustrated by such titles as this: "Gender wage gap sees women spend 7 weeks working for nothing" irishexaminer.com/ireland/cwgbaueysnsn/rss2/.) 

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Answer: Because they're supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home. (Far more wives are supported by a spouse than are husbands.)

    The implication of this is probably obvious to most 12-year-olds but seems incomprehensible to, or is wrongly dismissed as irrelevant by, feminists and the liberal media: If millions of wives are able to accept NO wages, millions of other wives, whose husbands' incomes vary, are more often able than husbands to:

    -accept low wages

    -refuse overtime and promotions

    -choose jobs based on interest first, wages second — the reverse of what men tend to do (The most popular job for American women as of 2010 is still secretary/administrative assistant, which has been a top ten job for women for the last 50 years. huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/11/gender-wage-gap_n_3424084.html) 

    -take more unpaid days off

    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)

    -work fewer hours than their male counterparts, or work less than full-time more often than their male counterparts (as in the above example regarding physicians)

    Any one of these job choices lowers women's median pay relative to men's. And when a wife makes one of the choices, her husband often must take up the slack, thereby increasing HIS pay. 

    Women who make these choices are generally able to do so because they are supported — or, if unmarried, anticipate being supported — by a husband who feels pressured to earn more than if he'd chosen never to marry. (Married men earn more than single men, but even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap: as a group they tend more than women to pass up jobs that interest them for ones that pay well. 

    Other dynamics that help set the stage for a wage gap to be created:

    -Far more men than women link their self-worth to their net-worth.

    -Far more women than men seek spouses with a high net-worth (hypergamy)

    -Far more single women than single men ask prospective dates, "What do you do?" And they listen more closely to the answer.

    -Far more women than men expect their spouse to be the primary provider who will give them the option of staying at home to raise the children, while the spouse raises the income that pays her to raise the children. 

    -Far more women look at a prospective spouse as an "employer" who will pay them to stay at home when they choose to do so.

    One result of these and other dynamics: According to 2010 BLS data, the following jobs contain 1 percent or less female workers: boilermakers, brick masonry, stonemasonry, septic tank servicing, sewer pipe cleaners and trash collectors. By contrast, women are 97 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers, 80 percent of social workers, 82 percent of librarians and 92 percent of dietitians and nutritionists and registered nurses. 

    More in "Does the Ledbetter Act Help Women?" at malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/will-the-ledbetter-fair-


  1. Please prove to us that you're not a robot:

Find Out Exactly What You Should Be Paid

United States (change)

Comp Managers: Start Here »