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Economic Justice for Women: A look at key issues affecting women

Women Who Lead panel

The Women Who Lead Legislative panel on Feb. 24 will explore Economic Justice for Women. From left, Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary; Michelle Daugherty Siri, Women’s Law Center of Maryland; moderator Caryn York, Job Opportunities Task Force, Del. Kris Valderrama; and Nicole Hanson, Out for Justice. (Maximillian Franz / Contributing Photographer)

Economic justice is critical for everyone, but it’s especially critical for women.

“Economic justice is important for everyone,” Caryn York, chief executive officer for the Job Opportunities Task Force, said. “Yet when more than 80% of households are led by women, when it is well known that women are the primary breadwinners in the household, especially black women, and when we know that women are least likely to be supported during and after incarceration to ensure access to economic stability and security, it is imperative that we pay special attention to crafting solutions that are specific to women.”

The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead legislative event on Feb. 24 at the Governor Calvert House in Annapolis will feature a panel discussion entitled “Economic Justice for Women.” York will moderate the panel, which includes Michelle Daugherty Siri, Women’s Law Center of Maryland Inc.’s executive director; Nicole Hanson, chairman of the board for Out for Justice; Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard); Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George’s); and Del. Trent Kittleman (R-Carroll and Howard).

York notes her topics for panel members will focus on reproductive rights, worker benefits and supports and the impact of incarceration on women, with specific questions on ensuring access to affordable and safe options in reproductive health, paid family leave and women’s pre-release center and criminal record expungement.

Pay Equity

Michelle Siri

Michelle Siri will be discussing pay equity at the Women Who Lead legislative event on Feb. 24. (Maximillian Franz / Contributing Photographer)

Siri will be discussing pay equity and two GA bills: equal pay for equal work — inquiring about wages and wage history and wage range.

Sponsored by Del. Pam Queen (D-Montgomery), the equal pay for equal work bill prohibits an employer from taking any adverse employment action against an employee for inquiring about their own wages.

Siri notes this bill aims to close a “loophole” in the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act passed in 2016, which prohibits an employer from discriminating between employees by paying a lower rate and providing less favorable employment opportunities to one sex or gender identity than the other.

While some women have a regular base salary, others, especially lower-wage workers, may have varying pay that could include overtime and travel reimbursement.

“What we were seeing was if people were asking and trying to get to the bottom of (their paycheck amount), they were being seen as troublemakers,” Siri said, noting some were retaliated against for inquiring.

Wage history

The wage history and range bill, sponsored by nearly two dozen senators, requires an employer to provide an applicant for employment the wage range for the position they are applying for. The bill also prohibits an employer from taking negative actions against a job applicant because the applicant did not provide wage history or wage range, as well as stopping an employer from relying on wage history, except when voluntarily provided, for the purpose of determining fair wage and from seeking an applicant’s wage history from former employers or their agents.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women who worked full-time year-round in 2014 earned 79% of what their male counterparts did annually.

Siri notes employers’ asking salary history may have disproportionate and unintentional actions. A woman already working for a depressed salary because of the wage gap could go to a new employer who then bases her salary on what the employer thinks is an unbiased, neutral number when, in fact, the employer is perpetuating discrimination.

By law, applicants do not have to give their salary histories, but Siri said when women don’t provide that information they tend to get a lower salary than if they had given their salary history — while men who refuse get a small bump in salary.

“It shows how important this legislation is because we need to take that off of the table altogether so that people aren’t being penalized for negotiating, which is what they are being told to do, and they are also not being penalized for providing that information,” she said.

By requiring employers to post a range, the idea is to make sure people aren’t going to be low-balled.

“The amount of the wage that is being offered for a position should be tied to what that position is worth to the company and not tied to who is applying,” Siri said. “Obviously there is a range you can take into consideration if they have special skills and things like that, but generally speaking we think it is more important and more fair to base that salary on what that position is worth because businesses know what they want to pay for that job.”

York hopes that attendees will take away a sense of urgency after attending the event.

Incarcerated Women/Re-Entry programs

Hanson will be focusing her segment on three bills sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore) requiring the state to open a pre-release correctional facility for women since there are currently none. The bills also ask for the facility to be located in an area where a large percentage of the inmates will be released and provide comprehensive rehabilitative services.

The goal is to provide access to educational opportunities, programs designed to help women find work after release and proper mental and physical health care. Hanson notes the goal of the legislation is to target some of the root causes of recidivism such as not being able to find a job.

“The vision is to provide Maryland’s women with access to community and opportunity through a separate prerelease facility that provides trauma-informed and gender responsive services that include access to 21st-century job training, stable housing, mental health care and other social supports,” Hanson said. “I hope people understand, when we ensure that women have access to substantive supports it makes our families whole, therefore making our communities stronger.”

Still more to be done

“It’s time to be bolder,” York said. “Maryland Democrats just voted for a man to succeed (the late) U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings leaving our delegation without a woman representative. Again, the top two contenders from the Iowa Caucuses are two white men. Sexism is still very real and prevalent. Gender equality is a thing, as is, racial gender equality.”

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.

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