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Why Are We Still Talking About the Wage Gap?

Photograph by Twenty20

It was President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, who signed the Equal Pay Act into law. You remember the 1960s, right? It was the era of bouffant hair when women (perhaps, even, your grandmother) matched their pumps to their handbags. Think "Mad Men," with less glamour and more blatant discrimination.

Fifty years later, women are still getting unequal treatment in the workplace. How is that even possible?

Tom Spiggle of Virginia's Spiggle Law Firm and author of "You're Pregnant? You're Fired!" is a good source on workplace law. He attributes continued wage discrimination to two main factors: silence and loopholes.

RELATED: Politics of the Gender Wage Gap: Facts

It is still strongly discouraged by employers for their employees to discuss wages. Some are starting to consider this an "unlawful restraint on speech," but until the practice of disclosing wages is more openly accepted, women will continue to be discouraged from both discussing their earnings and confirming their suspicions that they are being paid less for similar work than their male counterparts.

Despite laws that are supposed to prevent discrimination, Spiggle writes that the wage gap continues to be a concern for today's working women thanks to a proliferation of legal loopholes. Courts can determine any number of reasons that might account for the disparity of compensation outside of gender, if an employer can produce them, to justify the lower wages.

Women, it seems, continue to be their own worst enemies where salaries are concerned.

Remember Jennifer Lawrence after the Sony email leaks in December 2014? It was discovered that she was paid two points less than her male counterparts Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale for the movie "American Hustle." Those leaked emails detailed, in black and white, how the wage gap plays out even in rarefied circles.

Despite the significant disparity in pay, in media interviews, Jennifer Lawrence did not blame her male co-stars or even the studio executives for that fact that she earns less money for the same work—she blamed herself, publicly stating she was too concerned about how an ask for higher wages would be perceived by the executives.

Women, it seems, continue to be their own worst enemies where salaries are concerned. Then again, the consequences can be more harmful than the gap, and there's not always support within the company. "There is a reluctance to take action," Spiggle says. Women don't want to be branded a troublemaker, but then they realize that HR exists to protect the company, not the employee."

The impact this change will have on the day-to-day life of working women remains to be seen, but Spiggle believes there is great hope for women within the Millennial generation.

The Millennial generation could change that. There are websites popping up that provide a forum for women to more openly discuss their compensation. Fairygodboss is one of them. Created by two women, Fairygodboss is a crowdsourced database that catalogs information about wages, maternity leave, childcare policies, and flextime—work-related matters that are crucial to women and mothers, for hundreds of national and international employers. These sites use transparency as a tool against continued pay disparities.

Another champion of ending the wage gap is none other than President Barack Obama. In his first week in office, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first bill he signed into law. And earlier this year, his administration started requiring American employers of over 100 employees to start reporting pay data, capturing information about possible pay discrimination in their annual reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

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Attorney Spiggle stated, "President Obama has shown a real commitment to this cause, even mentioning it in his final State of the Union address. It says a lot about his presidency." Maybe not so surprising, since he's married to a strong woman and raising two strong daughters.

The impact this change will have on the day-to-day life of working women remains to be seen, but Spiggle believes there is great hope for women within the Millennial generation. "Employers need to change their behavior, and women need to realize they can stand up and fight against discrimination," he says. "Attitudes are different between the generations, but systematic change will allow ideals to take root within Millennials."

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