White House Takes Action to Address Pay Equity and Economic Opportunity for Women

In 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, making it one of the first federal anti-discrimination laws to address wage differences based on gender. At its core, the Act made it illegal to pay men and women working in the same place different salaries for similar work. During the signing ceremony, President Kennedy acknowledged the importance of a woman’s earning power and the need for provisions that would allow her to reach her full earning potential, including better day care services and tax deductions to cover the cost of such services. He stated that the Equal Pay Act was only a “first step,” and that “much remain[ed] to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity” for women. The following year, Title VII the Civil Rights of 1964 further strengthened laws for gender equality by making it illegal to discriminate not only on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, but also on the basis of sex. (Interestingly, opponents of Title VII actually added “on the basis of sex” at the eleventh hour in the hopes that it surely would mean the Act’s defeat!)

Recently, the White House continued this work, announcing several critical steps to advance pay equity and to continue to promote economic opportunity for women:

  • Advance pay equity for the federal workforce. First, the Office of Personnel Management announced that they will be issuing a proposed regulation to address the use of prior salary history in the hiring and pay-setting process for federal employees, consistent with President Biden’s prior Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the federal workforce.
  • Promote efforts to achieve pay equity for job applicants and employees of federal contractors. President Biden signed an Executive Order directing the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to consider enhancing pay equity and transparency by limiting or prohibiting federal contractors from seeking and considering information about job applicants’ and employees’ existing or past compensation when making employment decisions.
  • Strengthen pay audits by federal contractors. The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs issued a new directive clarifying federal contractors’ annual obligation to analyze their compensation practices.
  • Ensure equitable access to good-paying jobs. The Department of Labor issued a report analyzing the impact that women’s concentration in low-wage sectors – and their relative underrepresentation in many good-paying occupations – has on their overall economic security and gender and racial wage gaps.  
  • Address discrimination against caregivers. This week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published technical assistance on caregiver discrimination, addressing the circumstances under which discrimination against applicants and employees based on pandemic-related caregiving responsibilities may violate federal employment discrimination laws.

All employers should be aware of these continuing developments. While many of these efforts are aimed at federal employees, some are more broadly focused on federal contractors, thus potentially affecting any agency or business that contracts with the federal government or utilizes federal funds. Moreover, in the past, it is not at all uncommon for the federal government to expand regulations from federal workers to the private sector.

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