Alexandra Feldhausen, freelance writer and former Mindr intern, writes about attending the New York City Pay Equity Public Hearing in September, and reflects on where New York stands on pay discrimination.  

“What can we do to eliminate the pay gap in New York City?” asked Jacqueline Ebanks. 

Ebanks, Executive Director of New York City’s Commission on Gender Equity (CGE) in the Office of the Mayor, was the perfect person to pose the question in opening the Pay Equity Hearing last Thursday. Along with CGE, the event was hosted by the Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the New York City Bar Association. It brought together advocates, activists, employers, and employees from across New York to provide a forum for New Yorkers to tell their experiences with pay inequity, provide potential solutions, and discuss recent amendments to the state’s pay equity law

Hosted at the New York City Bar Association, the hearing carried a special legal weight to a problem that often skirts meaningful government regulation. 

“When I think about why women are paid less, it is in part because they can be. Our equal pay laws are just not strong enough.”

“When I think about why women are paid less, it is in part because they can be. Our equal pay laws are just not strong enough,” Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), stated in her opening remarks during the gathering.

Despite both federal and state protections, the pay gap persists. While the precise numbers vary, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that a full-time working woman earns 80% of what her male counterpart takes home. These statistics are only compounded when a person’s multiple identities are taken into account. Black women make approximately 64 cents to every dollar earned by a white man; gay government employees make between 8 to 29 percent less than heterosexual workers; and mothers make an estimated 71% of a father’s salary

Yet, until this summer, New York State’s Equal Pay Act only protected against discrimination based on sex. The new law, passed in the final weeks of the 2019 session, now extends these same protections to all classes protected under New York State Human Rights Law. This includes areas such as race or ethnic background, familial status, national origin, disability, and domestic violence victim status. Additionally, amendments in the law loosen the criteria needed to demonstrate discrimination; instead of “equal work” a person must show they completed “substantially similar work.” It should be noted that some of these protections only apply to workplaces with four or more employees

These figures were just some of the many topics covered by speakers from Time’s Up, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Deloitte, and UN Women amongst others. There was discussion of PepTalkHer, a new app that gives women the tools and confidence to advocate for and negotiate the salaries they deserve, and advocates spoke on the pay gap spillover benefits of Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), which trains women to become electricians, mechanics, or steamfitters. There were also calls for additional legal protections, like Britain’s requirement that all companies with over 250 workers publish their pay gap findings

Ranked 3rd best in the country on pay equity, New York has undoubtedly made strides in narrowing the wage gap. The hearing was therefore both a cause for celebration and an expert brainstorming session for the city. 

At the same time, all attendees were keenly aware that this was just the first step. 

Returning to the words of Fatima Gross Graves from NWLC, “We deserve better, and we are ready to turn up the volume.”