Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor
It made perfect sense that Hillary Clinton would declare “the future is female” after losing the 2016 election; it has all the hallmarks of a insipid talking point in the Clinton repertoire. A new ad campaign from General Electric breathes life into the sentiment by imagining a world in which a female scientist is treated like a celebrity. There’s only one problem with this framing device - not very many scientists are treated like celebrities. It’s not like Neil DeGrasse Tyson is on the cover of checkout stand magazines. That said, like the ad campaign, this column isn’t about science but politics.
Consider this the declaration of a conservative feminist: there is nothing that a man has accomplished - nothing created, invented, or innovated - that a woman couldn’t have accomplished, and possibly improved. GE’s ad campaign emphasizes their vision: “we aim to place 20,000 women in positions of engineering, science, math, and technology by 2020” I’m fully on board. In fact, I’m on board because that is clearly the best, most effective method to reduce any perceived gender wage gap that is central to progressive thought.
Armed with a broad study of workplace pay, progressives claim women make 71 to 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The studies, however, are overbroad. In a debate over equal pay for equal work, it makes no sense to divide the entire workforce by gender and assess the averages. It is always amazing to consider the wage gap in light of perhaps the most pronounced example of disparate compensation - academia. Because male professors are typically longer-tenured and male scientists have more incentive to leave academics, they are paid more than female professors, typically adjunct professors. The places where progressivism is the most sheltered happens to have the most pay inequality. It didn’t even escape the Obama White House, the federal government, or the Clinton Foundation.
Studies show any wage gap is a result of conscious decisions women make, as Christina Hoff-Sommers helpfully explained in a video for PragerU. Still, if there is a wage gap in America, it can be significantly reduced if more women pursue careers in specialized fields and take on the risks of entrepreneurship. Recently, the president’s daughter, Ivanka, took on such a mission but her presence in the White House has been answered with scorn from progressive women who decry her as “complicit” for not doing more to address the pay gap.
Democratic lawmakers believe that simply passing a paycheck fairness bill is the first step, but very few people actually take the time to read the Paycheck Fairness Act or its predecessor, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, laws aimed at addressing the pay gap by extending opportunities for women to sue their employers for discrimination. Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., for what she claimed was blatantly discriminatory pay relative to her male counterparts. The Supreme Court ruled in her case that employees may not seek legal restitution under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if the employer’s decision was made more than 180 days in advance of the employee’s discovery. The Court’s decision effectively limited the statute of limitations for claiming discrimination based on regular paychecks, but Congress acted to overturn that finding by passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the timetable to include every “discriminatory” paycheck, regardless of when the act of discrimination began. Extending opportunities for discrimination suits hasn’t changed the numbers at all. On average, 60% of pay discrimination suits are found to have “no reasonable cause” and only 8% are settled out of court, in fact, more than before the passing of the Fair Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act is an even more absurd remedy, extending opportunities for class action suits against employers, a costly and unnecessary burden that would impact all workers, but especially harm women looking to enter competitive fields.
Instead, conservatives should support legislation to prohibit employers from punishing anyone asking about compensation. In addition, the Equal Pay Act, first passed in 1963, allows employers to pay differently based on “any factor other than sex.” It should read “any business-related factor other than sex.” Women face enough difficulty in life - the great debate over health care concerns age-rating and price disparity between the sexes, for just one example - and they shouldn’t face any legal barriers to negotiating for just compensation. Finally, conservatives should support legislation to encourage and incentivize women to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Federal policy can help but closing any kind of wage gap will depend on women determined to blaze a trail through the specialized fields in which the only barrier to success is brainpower. If women haven’t been able to reach their potential because of outdated laws or cultural taboos, it is only right and proper that conservatives join them in fighting for economic opportunity for all. Our aim is total empowerment for all Americans - male, female, homemakers, and scientists - and our policies must reflect that.
You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU
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