The bill has a number of provisions, but the piece that stands out the most is one that requires employers to pay men and women the same for “substantially similar work,” not just the exact same job, unless differences are based on productivity, merit, and/or seniority.
This provision is what used to be called pay equity: not just requiring the same pay for the same job, but for different jobs that are similar in terms of effort, responsibility, and skill. While it isn’t mentioned much anymore, in the 1980s there was a strong movement toward laws that would require pay equality based on this concept. By 1989, 20 states had made adjustments among their own workforces based on “comparable worth,” or the idea of paying the same for substantially similar work in different jobs. More than 335,000 women got a raise and 20 percent of their gender wage gap was eliminated. That reduced the overall wage gap, and in five states it closed by 25 to 33 percent.
Most of these projects have now been abandoned, however, although Minnesota has kept its own running. At the same time, progress on closing the country’s gender wage gap, which means that women make 78 percent of what men make, has stalled for about a decade.
California’s new bill also bans employers from retaliating against employees who discuss pay. Even though all American workers have a legal right to discuss compensation with each other, about half say that doing so is either discouraged, prohibited, or could lead to disciplinary actions. That poses a significant hurdle for women trying to address unequal pay, given that it makes it very difficult to find out what everyone else at their job makes. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act was named, didn’t know she was being paid less until 19 years later. On the other hand, in places like the federal government and unionized workforces, where pay is usually transparent, the gender wage gap is much smaller.
Another provision of California’s law would allow employees to take action against wage gaps between different worksites, not just at their own location.
Now California's gender pay gap is still 16% between men and women, one of the smallest in the nation, but it still means that on average, men make six bucks for every five that women make for similar work in a similar position. And a big chunk of that is Silicon Valley by itself, where the pay gap is twice that or more. Luckily, this new legislation will go a long way towards fixing that problem.
Good job, Golden State.