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Albany Considers Transparency Law to Help Pay Equity

The county wants to require employers to disclose minimum and maximum pay for job listings. Currently, more than half a dozen states have pay transparency laws, including jurisdictions in New York.

man and woman figurines sit on stacks of coins
(TNS) — Sheri Scavone said she was "incredibly" underpaid for a long time at the start of her career, but she didn't know it.

She went on to work for a large medical institution and then saw the same thing happening to others firsthand, especially due to what she believed to be gender discrimination.

Seeing how women suffer wage losses compared to men or younger employees lose out on money because of their age has driven her to speak out against the inequities.

Scavone, CEO of the Western New York Women's Foundation, now works tirelessly to advocate for others slighted by pay inequities and move government bodies toward adopting policies that will weaken or eliminate systemic pillars upholding wage gaps.

She sees pay transparency laws as a small but "empowering" step on the long road driving her mission, particularly for women who are disproportionately affected by such inequities. The Albany County, N.Y., Legislature is currently considering a law that would obligate employers to disclose minimum and maximum pay for job listings.

Over half a dozen states have already implemented pay transparency laws and several places in New York, including Ithaca, have as well or are inching toward it.

"One would think that we have pay equity laws, so, why do we need something like salary transparency? Well, the reality of it is the pay equity laws are not enforced," Scavone said.

Data from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) showed full-time working women earned just 83 percent of what men made in 2021, based on median weekly earnings. And the disparities widen across racial lines as women of color earn significantly less than white men.

"Compared to the median weekly earnings of White men working full-time, Hispanic women's full-time earnings were just 58.4 percent, Black women's 63.1 percent, and White women's 79.6 percent," the report said.

The institute determined that if employed women in New York were paid the same as men in similar roles, their poverty rate would be cut by half and if trends continue as they are, women won't reach pay parity with men until 2059.

"While there may be no direct link between pay secrecy and pay inequality, pay secrecy appears to contribute to the gender gap in earnings," IWPR said in a report.

IWPR also discovered that 61 percent of private-sector employees are either discouraged or formally prohibited from discussing wage and salary information compared to 14 percent of employees in public workplaces.

For Scavone, pay transparency measures aren't an all-encompassing solution but can be helpful in creating some parameters for employers and leveling the playing field a bit.

Knowing a position's full pay scale would allow applicants to know what to ask for and better evaluate their fit for a role rather than potentially undervaluing themselves.

"Policies like this do, in some ways, empower women to negotiate differently, to ask more questions," she explained.

Scavone further said it helps women fight back against "mommy penalties" or unconscious bias that "taints people's thinking in terms of salary" for women.

Mommy penalties are implicit biases that employers may have toward women because they are mothers or thinking of having children, according to Scavone. It's the idea that a woman's salary package can be lower because as a mother, or prospective mother, she will have to take time off from work for maternity leave or child care.

Hayward Derrick Horton, a professor of sociology at the University at Albany, agreed. He emphasized that racism and sexism still play dramatic roles in salary determinations. He believes pay transparency laws would put employers on notice and shift some of the power dynamic's weight toward job hunters to work in their favor.

Horton finds the private sector is much more "heterogenous," than public workplaces, meaning private positions and job descriptions are largely determined by the market and thus are much more subjective, rather than being set by civil service guidelines or union contracts.

"Lawmakers have much more of a challenge controlling it or even attempting to control that because you don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg," he said.

Since concepts of capital mobility and globalization exist, companies can very well say they're going to move to another state or country if they don't like a policy for the sake of protecting their business.

Putting more pressure on private companies with additional regulations could send them packing and affect the economic landscape. Both Horton and Scavone agree such threats are an obstacle to achieving pay equity.

Those obstacles can bring into question just how much pay equity laws can make an impact in New York.

"We are a highly bureaucratic state. And so, I think there always is pushback at a business level (against) yet one more regulation," Scavone said.

(c)2022 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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