MONTPELIER — The Vermont Commission on Women, an organization committed to pay equality, celebrated the 100th signer to the Vermont Equal Pay Compact last month. VCW and former Gov. Peter Shumlin launched the Equal Pay Compact in 2015 to address the gender pay gap that continues to plague the U.S. and several other countries around the world.
“This project launched on Equal Pay Day 2015 to inform employers about practical steps they can take to eliminate the wage gap in their business and across Vermont,” said Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women.
The project, a voluntary online pledge, was set up to enable Vermont-based employers to get facts and indicate their commitment to closing and abolishing wage disparity based on gender.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, “equal pay and the wage gap of American women who work full-time, year-round, are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men — and for women of color, the wage gap is even larger. It’s long past time to close the gap.”
The Equal Pay Act has been the law for over 50 years and requires that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment.
Vermont Equal Pay Compact signer Nicole Kesselring, president of Enman Kesselring, a civil-engineering firm based in Rutland, registered as a small women-owned minority business in 2016. “I stand behind equal pay for both women and men for their hard work,” she said. “It’s a great effort that’s underway — I believe it’s an awareness and hopefully this awareness will bring insight in the future for both sides; the employer and the employee.”
Policy changes can help achieve equal pay, yet it’s both cultural and actual tangible changes within the workforce that need to be implemented that will combat wage discrimination.
“Laws within legislation make a difference, but alone can’t fix this,” said Brown. “Employers are the key. It’s good business practices that will ultimately make a difference with the disparities that we see between men and women … We’re asking most of the employers we work with to take a broader look. To use inclusive language, to make a special effort to develop leadership in women employment, to take a look at recruitment materials, making it reflective of the message they want to send, and actively recruit women for executive positions.”
Vermont Equal Pay Compact signer Mollie S. Burke, a Brattleboro artist, educator, state representative and founder and executive director of Brattleboro’s Art in the Neighborhood, said, “This compact raises the issue. It brings it into prominence and asks the question, why does this wage gap still exist in 2017? As co-chair of the women’s caucus, we are able to look through the lens of the Legislature each year at the Commission on Women’s Equal Pay Day, which meets in April; a day symbolizing how far into the year women must work to earn the wages men earn each year when women have the same education, same occupation and work in the same industry … This pledge brings awareness both for today and on a historical level.”
The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show women are underrepresented in some of the highest-paying occupations, including chief executives, judicial workers, pharmacists, architectural and engineering positions, and lawyers, to list a few.
“This project was designed as one aspect to closing the wage gap and to bring awareness to the forefront within companies in regards to gender equity,” Brown said. “We are trying to cultivate as many new members and signers as we can — 100 signers marked a good number for progress. It means that more employers are actively thinking about women’s advancement and are placing encouragement within their places of employment.”
To participate in the Vermont Equal Pay Compact, the pledge sign-up form can be found at: www.women.vermont.gov.