The average woman in the U.S. earns 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man. For women of color, that figure is far less —African-American women earn 61 cents to every dollar a white man earns, Native American women earn 58 cents and Latina women earn 53 cents.
Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris wants to fix that. In an ambitious plan released today, Harris outlines how she will hold companies responsible for promoting and paying women fairly.
“For too long, we’ve put the burden entirely on workers to hold corporations accountable for pay discrimination through costly lawsuits that are increasingly difficult to prove,” Harris wrote on her campaign website. “We’ve let corporations hide their wage gaps, but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they’ve earned. It’s time to flip the script and finally hold corporations accountable for pay inequality in America.”
Calling her plan “the most aggressive equal pay proposal in history,” Harris says it will give companies with 100 or more employees three years to obtain an Equal Pay Certification from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Companies with 500 or more employees will have two years to obtain certification.
To receive this certification, Harris says companies will have to prove that they have eliminated all pay disparities between men and women who are doing equal work. If a pay gap does exist, then companies will have to demonstrate that it exists based on merit, performance or seniority, and not gender.
Any company that fails to meet the qualifications for an Equal Pay Certification will be fined 1% of their profit for every 1% wage gap they allow to persist in their workplace.
Additionally, under Harris’s plan, companies would be required to report statistics on the number of women in leadership positions and the number of women who are top-earners at the company. In addition to gender, companies will also be required to collect and release data about how their employees are paid by race and ethnicity.
Beyond addressing the pay gap women face in the workplace, Harris also plans to address the paid leave dilemma that many women face when it comes to caring for a new child or sick family member.
“We must address the systemic inequalities that drive the pay gap, including the wage penalty women pay when caring for a new child or a sick parent, ” her campaign site says. “On average, women receive a 4% pay cut for each child they have, compared to men who receive a 6% pay increase. The lack of paid leave — for women and men — is a major driver of the wage penalty.”
Right now, the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer paid leave, and Harris says she will introduce new legislation, known as the FAMILY act, that will provide workers up to 12 weeks of paid medical and family leave. This universal paid family leave, Harris says, will be paid in part by the fines collected from companies found to have an existing pay gap.
Harris’s plan to address the countries ongoing gender pay issue isn’t a first of its kind. In fact in 2016, former President Barack Obama introduced an initiative requiring employers with more than 100 employees, and federal contractors with more than 50, to categorize their employees by gender, race, type of work, and place them into one of 12 wage bands.
Employers would have been required to submit this data for the first time by September 30, 2017. But in August 2017 the Trump administration suspended the initiative indefinitely, claiming the measure was “unnecessarily burdensome” to employers. The National Women’s Law Center called the suspension “an all-out attack on equal pay.”
In 2018, the U.K. began requiring employers with at least 250 employees to report any gender wage disparities. The results highlighted huge pay gaps at high-profile companies, including Britain’s biggest bank, HSBC Holdings Plc, where women earned an average 59% less than men.
Harris says that not only will her plan “radically change the way we enforce equal pay in America,” but it will also overhaul any anti-discrimination laws that allow these inequalities to persist.
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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a town hall meeting at Canyon Springs High School on March 1, 2019 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images