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How Clinton’s Call for Equal Pay Could Change Lives

During last night's presidential debates, Hillary Clinton promised equal pay and paid family leave. We talked to a workplace-inclusion advocate about how these initiatives could have a huge impact on American families.
September 27, 2016, 10:14pm
Image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton wasted no time in bringing up women's equality during last night's fiery presidential debate against Republican candidate Donald Trump. In her answer to the first question from moderator Lester Holt—in which he asked the Democratic candidate how she would help restore the nation's economy—Clinton said, "We also have to make the economy fairer. That starts with raising the national minimum wage and also guarantee, finally, equal pay for women's work."

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Later, the candidates also discussed paid family leave. "How are we going to do it?" Clinton asked. "We're going to do it by having the wealthy pay their fair share and close the corporate loopholes."

It's significant that these matters were discussed by the two presidential candidates because though we've seen recent strides in the fight for women's equality in the workplace, there's still a significant amount of progress that needs to be made in order to close the wage gap and ensure that women have equal opportunities at work.

Liz Mulligan-Ferry, research director at workplace-inclusion nonprofit Catalyst, tells Broadly that incremental change has been made; however, the pay gap is still alive and well for workers across the board.

Read more: We Still Need 140,000 Women in Office for Political Gender Equality

"Catalyst did a study on men and women who graduate from top MBA programs around the world," she said. "We looked at their first job after finishing the MBA program and how much they were paid, controlling for previous education, previous employment, regional factors and more. We found that women make $4,600 less than men in their very first job with that degree."

These entry salaries are crucial because employers often consider salary history when negotiating how much to pay a candidate. "Salary history often comes into play in negotiations," Mulligan-Ferry said, "and since women are starting with lower salaries, they cannot catch up."

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She also says that raising the minimum wage would have a significant impact on female workers, and especially women of color. "A large portion of low-wage workers are women. A lot are single parents trying to support families on a minimum-wage salary, which is impossible. That means they're often working more than one job to make ends meet," said Mulligan-Ferry. "Many minimum-wage earners are women of color, and they are disproportionately hurt by holding a higher percentage of minimum wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage can help bring equality for men and women in the workplace."

Not only do women still earn less than men—and women of color even less so—but women also have fewer opportunities to be placed in leadership positions, which was highlighted in a recent Women in the Workplace study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. Clinton has previously detailed her own plan for holding companies accountable to closing the wage gap, including requiring employers to analyze their own compensation to ensure equal pay.

During the debate, Clinton also strongly criticized Trump for his sexist track record. "This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men," she said.

Trump denied that he'd ever made such a remark, but he in a 2004 interview with NBC's Dateline, Trump did say that pregnancy is "a wonderful thing for the woman, it's a wonderful thing for the husband, it's certainly an inconvenience for a business."

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After falsely denying Clinton's criticism, Trump said he agreed with her regarding helping working families with child care. "We probably disagree a little bit as to numbers and amounts and what we're going to do, but perhaps we'll be talking about that later," Trump said.

Donald Trump released a regressive and insufficient 'maternity leave' policy that is out-of-touch, half-baked and ignores the way Americans live and work today.

In fact, while Clinton has called for paid family leave, Trump's recently published plan supports paid maternity leave only. Catalyst's Mulligan-Ferry explains how these policies are different. "Paid maternity leave is what it sounds like: a block of time where women who have had or adopted a child are allowed to leave the workplace to take care of the baby for all or a portion of their salary while on leave," she said. "Paid family leave is broader."

Previously, Rebecca Chalif, director of women's media at Hillary for America, told Broadly, "Donald Trump released a regressive and insufficient 'maternity leave' policy that is out-of-touch, half-baked and ignores the way Americans live and work today. Instead of asking those at the top to pay their fair share, he's robbing Peter to pay Paul by raiding unemployment insurance funds, and giving the most to the wealthy while providing far less relief to middle-class and working families."

Mulligan-Ferry says that with family leave, parents of any gender can take leave to take care of newborn babies, but also sick children, ailing or aging parents, and themselves. With leave policies, she says, "the broader the better."

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"Research has shown bonding and having time for mother and father to be with a baby is good for both babies and parents," said Mulligan-Ferry. "But in terms of gender equality, it helps to have a father take time off. It helps to break down stereotypes about who a caregiver is and who an ideal worker is. Women are typically seen as caregivers and the man is the person who goes to work, pays bills, and earns money, so women can care for the family. The more this stereotype still exists, the worse off women are."

Mulligan-Ferry says this reinforcement of the stereotype of women as caregivers is unfair for both women and men, not to mention families that do not have a mother in the picture.

"Research has been done on fathering and dads in the workplace," she said. "Most men actually want more time with children, and don't want to be seen as a 'babysitting.' They're an equal partner in raising a child when a child is being raised by two people this way. So if we can provide policy that lets both parents take time off, we'll be better off."