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‘Smart Start’ seminars build on Equal Pay Day push

| Alison Wagener

April is finally here: the birds are chirping, the snow is melting on more days than not, and even in Wisconsin, we can feel summer brewing in the air.

But even though 2016 is in full gear, women’s salaries in the United States are just now catching up to men’s from last year.

Equal Pay Day was established in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity to make the gap between men’s and women’s pay visible. Each year, Equal Pay Day marks the date on which women would have had to work until in order to make as much money, on average, as men did in the previous calendar year. This year, Equal Pay Day is on April 12.

When the Equal Pay Act was signed by John F. Kennedy in 1963, women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Although the act prohibited wage discrimination based on sex, by 2012, women still only made 77 cents on the dollar. Today, women make 79 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. If the wage gap continues to narrow at the current rate, men and women won’t be paid equally until more than 100 years from now.

The wage gap isn’t simply a matter of men and women seeking out different types of careers — the pay gap exists in nearly every occupation. The causes of unequal pay include both discrimination in the workplace and unequal access to education and job opportunities for women.

The intersection of race, class and gender creates a more difficult situation for women of color. According to a 2014 study conducted by the American Association of University Women, in comparison to every dollar earned by a white man, African American women earn 63 cents, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women earns 62 cents, American Indian and Alaska Native women earn 59 cents and Hispanic and Latina women earn 54 cents.

In honor of Equal Pay Day, UW-Eau Claire will host three Start Smart salary negotiation workshops. Coordinated by the American Association of University Women, the two-hour workshops focus on teaching college students how to navigate the gender wage gap. The workshops will offer a free opportunity for Blugolds to explore the personal and societal effects of the wage gap and how they can combat it to increase their own lifelong earnings. Exercises during the workshop will teach participants step-by-step instructions for salary and benefits negotiation, how to estimate a fair salary by quantifying the value of their education, skills and experiences and how to create a negotiation pitch and handle salary offers.

Robin Johengen, career development coordinator at UW-Eau Claire’s Career Services and coordinator of the Start Smart workshops, said the wage gap doesn’t get the attention it deserves. 

“I believe that many people don’t think the gender pay gap is still an issue or realize the long-term effect of this pay gap over the course of a career. I was one of these people until I went through the Start Smart workshop myself a few years ago,” Johengen said. “This is something that doesn’t always get talked about, so it’s just forgotten, and that needs to change or the pay gap will continue to be an issue.”

The Start Smart workshops will be held April 14 from 6-8 p.m. in Hibbard 108, April 26 from 4-6 p.m. in Old Library 1132 and May 9 from 5-7 p.m. in Centennial 3314. Although the workshops are aimed at college women, all students are invited and encouraged to attend. Students can register on the Career Services website here.