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Barriers, bias and bills, 'Oh my!'

An unprecedented 13 American Association of University Women (AAUW) Ashland members traveled to Salem in February to lobby our new state legislators, Representative Pam Marsh and Senator Alan DeBoer, to ask them to vote “yes” for the fair pay bill HB 2005 (SB 252).

This bill will help end pay disparities faced by women, people of color, LBGTQ workers, workers with a disability and all other protected classes in Oregon. Among full-time, year-round workers, women are typically paid 80 percent of what men are paid; African American women, 63 percent; American Indian and Alaska Native women, 58 percent; and Latina women face the largest gap, making just 54 percent of white men’s earnings.

It’s 2017 and we’re still working on fair pay! Why? Barriers and bias.

Stereotypes and the biases on which they are based present a subtle but powerful obstacle for women. We define stereotype as a cognitive “shortcut” that categorizes people on the basis of characteristics such as gender, race or age. A bias is a semi-permanent belief based on repeated exposure to stereotypes. Stereotypes about mothers can negatively affect women pursuing leadership roles. Employers may assume that women’s caregiving commitments make them inappropriate candidates for demanding jobs.

According to one researcher, “Motherhood triggers powerful negative competence and commitment assumptions” that can result in a “maternal wall” (think barrier) of bias. Fatherhood, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite effect. After becoming fathers, men see an average of a 6 percent increase in earnings even after controlling for factors such as hours worked and marital status, while mothers see a 4 percent decrease per child.

HB 2005 precludes employers from screening job applicants based on salary history or to base a salary decision on one’s previous salary history, except for internal hires. This will help break the cycle of pay disparity that traps workers from aspiring to earn higher wages because they have previously worked at a lower wage. It will ensure that job offers are made based on how an employer values the position, not an employee’s past salary.

HB 2005 also requires that employees from protected classes be paid equally for “work of comparable character.” This is arguably the most important provision and requires that workers of a protected class be paid equally for performing the same job. Current civil rights law in Oregon is not adequate to protect workers from pay discrimination with this standard. In addition, HB 2005 adds all of the protected classes to ORS 652.210, which currently only covers pay disparity based on gender.

Our charge at AAUW Ashland is to be persistent and to frequently urge our representatives to support fair pay and we welcome all Oregonians to join us.

AAUW Update, a report prepared by members of the American Association of University Women, Ashland Branch, appears quarterly. For more information, go to ashland-or.aauw.net.

Attending Lobby Day for our Branch were from left to right: Sarah Seybold, Sara Brown, Regina Ayars, Paula Wiiken, Representative Pam Marsh, Bessie Azari, Mimi Pippel, Christine Fernlund and Phyllis Fernlund. Not pictured: Pat Brewer, Ginny Dugan, Erin Finklea, Sandra Theis, and SaraWalker