Understanding Equal Pay Day

Equal Pay Day is a public awareness holiday designed to draw attention to the gender pay gap. This gap denotes the discrepancy in pay between men and women for equal work. The date of Equal Pay Day shifts each year to commemorate the additional work women have to perform to reach pay parity with men.  

 In 2022, women earned, on average, 83.7 cents for every dollar earned by men. To earn a man’s equivalent 2022 salary, a woman would have to work through March 14, 2023. Thus, Equal Pay Day 2023 fell on March 14. In 2024, the holiday falls on March 12, representing a mere 0.3% shrinkage in the gender pay gap. All Fair360 Top 10 companies have systemic efforts to detect and correct pay inequity. 

The History of Equal Pay Day 

The first Equal Pay Day was celebrated on April 11, 1996. At that time, women’s salaries averaged just 73.8% of men’s, requiring an additional four months of work to match. This inaugural event was organized by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) as a public awareness campaign. The event aimed to demonstrate how pay discrimination still plagued women nationwide, even decades after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. 

While the public awareness campaign that is Equal Pay Day has successfully drawn attention to gendered pay inequityeven prompting official presidential statements—progress toward resolving that inequity has been slow. Research from the Pew Research Center shows how the gender pay gap narrowed by just 2% in the two decades between 2002–2022.  

In the decades before the introduction of Equal Pay Day, the earnings gap had been shrinking before stagnating entering the 21st century. Economists have noted that this stagnation came shortly after the introduction of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993. The law mandated that companies provide job-protected parental leave for new parents. According to a paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, organizations’ attempts to compensate for this new requirement contributed to the stagnation of the pay gap.   

Women, on average, take more parental leave than men after the birth or adoption of a child. Companies began taking this difference into account in developing hiring and promotion practices. They began justifying lower pay for women because of the greater potential for extended leave. This “statistical discrimination” revealed not only the continued need for pay equity advocacy but also the importance of developing holistic anti-discrimination policies that protect against specific biases that are levied differently against men and women. 

READ: US Pay Equity: Lingering Gap Despite Progress 

The Spectrum of Inequality 

Reducing gendered pay inequity to a single number fails to capture the many variables that affect women’s earnings potential. The gender pay gap commemorated by Equal Pay Day doesn’t paint the full picture of pay inequity in the U.S. While white women may earn 84% of the average man’s salary, that gap widens significantly for women of color. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly earnings of white men in the U.S. was $1,194 in 2023, while white women averaged $991. Black women averaged a weekly income of $856, while Hispanic women earned $774. This means Black and Hispanic women earn just 71.7% and 64.8% of a white man’s salary, respectively.  

Even for white women, the pay gap can swing wildly from state to state. In Washington, D.C., the average gender pay gap is just 13 cents, several cents below the national average. In Indiana and Alabama, the gap is 31 cents, reaching as high as 40 cents in Utah.  

The pay gap also varies significantly between industries. In trade occupations, like manufacturing, women earn approximately 75 cents for every dollar men earn. In healthcare, that drops to just 69 cents. Though the degree of inequality is inconsistent across professions and demographics, the ubiquity of the gender pay gap affects women in all fields. 

READ: Why Pay Transparency Laws Are Crucial for Women of Color 

Equity in Action 

Detecting and correcting pay inequity requires an ongoing review of an organization’s internal pay structures and policies. Mary Moreland, Executive Vice President of Human Resources at Abbott (No. 9 on the 2023 Fair360 Top 50 Companies list), said as much in Abbott’s 2022 DEI report. 

“We conduct pay equity reviews and make pay adjustments when necessary to ensure our employees are compensated equitably for their contributions,” Moreland said. “We offer our employees the health, wellness, and financial benefits that provide security for them and their families.” 

At Mastercard (No. 1 on the 2023 Fair360 Top 50 Companies list), periodic pay equity reviews have allowed the company to reach global pay parity. In 2022, Mastercard announced that women at the organization now earned $1 for every $1 earned by men.  

According to the company’s website, Mastercard has “established a framework for examining pay practices annually with the support of third-party analysis. All roles in our organization are reviewed and benchmarked to the external market and we assess compensation decisions for potential pay disparities by gender, among other categories. If disparities are found and not explained in an acceptable manner, appropriate responsive action is taken.”  

As Mastercard’s efforts show, data and benchmarking are essential tools in developing equitable pay structures. Fair360’s Top 50 Companies survey gives organizations the comparative human capital data needed to cultivate fair workplaces. Companies that participate in the survey receive a free report card that assesses workplace fairness, helping shape future strategies to drive equity for all employees. 

LEARN MORE: Explore Fair360’s benchmarking services 


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