Thursday, June 13, 2024

House reps. and women’s rights advocates discuss pay inequality at forum


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By Joshua Tilton // Contributing Writer | Photo courtesy of Flickr

Members of the Tennessee House of Representative and advocates for women’s rights joined forces on Thursday night to address the wage gap in Tennessee.

The “Equal Dime for Equal Time” forum, sponsored by MTSU and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), brought to light several underlying issues surrounding discriminatory practices in the workforce.

This debate has become a forefront issue in the fight for national equality. At the current rate, women’s wages won’t be level with men’s until 2059.

While many legislative officials in Tennessee have plans to combat this problem, there are some basic hurdles to overcome before anything major can be implemented.

“Some people deny that there’s even a pay gap,” said Tennessee House Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) at Thursday’s forum.

Clemmons has introduced at least two pieces of legislation in Tennessee aimed at addressing the pay gap – both of which were struck down. According to Clemmons, the disparity facing women in the workplace is not limited to salary.

“There are adversarial employment actions against speaking out about wage disparity between coworkers,” Clemmons said.

Negotiations are also a major pitfall for women seeking employment. Because young girls aren’t given the same opportunities to succeed as young boys, they generally have less confidence when negotiating salaries.

Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, executive director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, said that, “we need to instill in our girls the confidence that they can compete with their male counterparts at every level.”

“When [women] do negotiate, they get labeled as aggressive, not assertive,” said Qualls-Brooks. “There needs to be a major paradigm shift.”

The forum then switched to discussing strategies for women in combating pay inequality. Among other things, they listed research into the company’s policies, the position being applied for and the position’s usual salary as a primary factor in succeeding in an interview.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh paired with the AAUW in providing negotiation training for 85,000 women, a program called “Work Smart.” The success of that program sets a potential standard for states across the US.

Sarah Smith, Director of the Nashville office for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, believes that change is in the works regarding the wage gap.

“The fat lady has not sung yet,” Smith said.

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