Fifty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women in the United States still earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. The pay gap for women of color is even greater. One of the primary reasons for this persistent gap is the concentration of women in comparatively lower-paying and non-supervisory professions – well over half of all women continue to be employed in lower-paying sales, service, and administrative support positions. President Obama’s Equal Pay Task Force sees this issue as one of the greatest barriers to pay equality and is working with the Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL) to expand women’s access to non-traditional occupations.
ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) is commissioning a study that will examine gender equity in secondary career and technical education. Specifically, it will look at whether girls and young women in high school have access to high-quality programs that prepare them for careers in non-traditional occupations – for example, law enforcement, construction, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions. Similarly, DOL has commissioned several studies that identify barriers women face in accessing these occupations, as well as successful evidence-based strategies to increase employment opportunities in these professions.
Later this year, ED and Georgetown University will convene thought leaders, policymakers, practitioners, researchers, advocates, and girls and young women for a conversation on ways to improve the prospects of girls and women in career and technical education and other rigorous college- and career-preparation programs. The aim is to develop a forward-looking strategy to prepare women and girls for in-demand careers within high-growth industry sectors.
Both agencies also are working with unions and labor management to expand quality training programs. To date, over 40 unions and labor management partnerships have pledged to expand low-skilled workers’ access to their training programs and share best practices on effective workforce and career pathway programs. This collaboration represents almost 8,000 employers and will provide unprecedented access to educational and training opportunities, as well as supportive services necessary for women and working families to be successful.
Despite progress over the years, there is still a long way to go to fulfill the vision of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.
“Our nation has made great progress in expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but business, industry, labor, and government at all levels still have so much work to do to ensure that every American, regardless of their gender, is treated fairly and gets equal pay for equal work,” said Secretary Duncan.
While women increasingly are the primary breadwinners in American households, many other women remain stuck in comparatively lower paying jobs with fewer benefits. The promise of equal pay for equal work means, for many, a promise of equal preparation for and access to better paying, non-traditional occupations and inclusive workplaces that are free of discrimination and offer policies that support working families. The Administration is doing its part to make sure that promise is kept.
Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Kansas City regional office.