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Lo’ Money Mo’ Problems

By Brian Thomas and David Stewart

You saw the headlines.  U.S. soccer megastar Megan Rapinoe flatly offered, “I’m not going to the [freaking] White House,” when asked whether she’d visit the executive mansion if the US Women’s National Team were to win another World Cup title.  Some were outraged; claiming Rapinoe and her teammates should just shut up and play.  Others were inspired.  Our conflicting reactions to Rapinoe’s remarks mirror our massive, ongoing political divide.  But that’s nothing when compared to an even bigger divide –the gender pay gap.

The USWNT are back-to-back World Cup champions.  The team also finished second in the 2011 World Cup, after winning the title in 1999 and 1991.  That’s domination.  Our men’s team hasn’t fared as well.  Our men have never won a World Cup title and didn’t qualify for the 2018 tournament.  Since 1990, the U.S. men’s team hasn’t finished higher than eighth.  Where our men have floundered, our women have flourished.  You’d think the women’s stellar play would result in a stellar payday.

But it hasn’t.

In March 2019, twenty-eight USWNT players filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging gender discrimination.  The suit claims that, despite earning more revenue and achieving far greater success than their male counterparts, the USWNT players earn far less than the men.  It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit plays out.  Very few discussed, or even knew about the lawsuit before the World Cup.  A lot of people know about it now.

There was also a noticeable shift following the USWNT’s amazing victory.  You didn’t hear about Rapinoe’s White House comments after the game.  Instead, you heard loud, sustained chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” echoing throughout the French soccer stadium.  While the USWNT’s victory put a much needed spotlight on equal pay in sports, this conversation will extend much further than the soccer pitch.

Researchers have estimated that white women earn, on average, 77% of what white men earn.  Black women earn roughly 61%, Indigenous women earn 58% and Hispanic women earn 53%.  That’s a problem.  If companies want to hire and retain exceptional people, they will embrace and invest in equal pay.

Tying a new employee’s salary to what they made in a former position can perpetuate pay inequality. Since men historically make more than women, a man’s salary on a new job would likely be higher than a woman who is performing the same job. That’s why some companies have stopped asking about salary histories and have moved to paying their employees based on the work they are being hired to do, not the work they have done in the past.  Some companies are also becoming more transparent and allowing employees to openly discuss their salaries.  This can help reveal inequalities that could otherwise go unnoticed.

We’re in a new reality.  Businesses can’t simply ignore the gender pay gap. The time for pay equality has arrived. And now the world is watching.