Moments after the U.S. women’s national soccer team beat the Netherlands 2-0 and secured its fourth Women’s World Cup victory last month, the crowd in Lyon, France, erupted in cheers — and began an unusual chant that might have been more typical of a political rally.
“Equal pay. Equal pay. Equal pay,” thundered through the stadium.
The apparently spontaneous reaction was meant as a show of solidarity with the women players, who are embroiled in a legal fight with the U.S. Soccer Federation over claims that the winning women’s team is paid less than the less-victorious men’s national soccer team. (For what it’s worth, the federation denies this and, in fact, last week federation President Carlos Cordeiro said in an open letter that, actually, women have been paid more than men in recent years. Both the women‘s team and the national men’s team say that’s not true.)
The stadium in France soon emptied, but the message continues to reverberate. That’s due in large part to the players themselves, and particularly the team’s brightest star, Megan Rapinoe, who has continued to push the public discussion about gender pay disparities, and hopefully will continue to do so on their victory tour (which came to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday). ”I’m going to fight for equal pay every day for myself, for my team, and for every single person out there,” Rapinoe said on “Meet the Press.”
On the one hand, it’s depressing that it requires a sports star of Rapinoe’s stature to focus attention on the reality that, more than half a century after the Equal Pay Act passed, women still face wage disparities in just about every workplace. But we’re glad it is happening and hope it translates into substantive action that benefits women in every profession. Of course, all other things being equal, female athletes should be paid a fair and equal wage for doing substantially the same job that male athletes do, but so should factory workers, food servers and accountants.
Women in Congress capitalized on the recent attention on the women’s soccer team pay fight to introduce legislation to address the disparity in both compensation and investment into national sports teams. The “Even Playing Field Act” would amend the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in two significant ways. First it would require the national governing bodies of U.S. sports teams to make equitable investments in women’s teams and offer equal pay and wages. And, perhaps more importantly, it would require the governing bodies to report annually to Congress on the compensation of players, coaches, administrators and staff, broken down by race, gender and employment category. It’s a reasonable measure, and should pass with bipartisan support. Even President Trump said he thinks the women soccer players deserve equal pay, kind of.
Transparency is one of the most powerful weapons against pay disparity, and is also a major feature of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has languished in Congress for more than a decade. This legislation prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who share their salary information and requires some employers to report their wage rates for general job classifications. As the women’s soccer players know, public transparency about wages can shift public sentiment. This bill also deserves bipartisan support.
The reasons the pay gap persists are complicated and not necessarily caused by deliberate discrimination, but are nevertheless real. Collectively, women make some 20% less than men; it’s even lower for women of color. Some are paid less because their career trajectories took them down different paths or into female-dominated professions that are traditionally valued less than similarly skilled fields dominated primarily by men. But sometimes it’s just because an employer could get away with paying female workers less than men. That’s wrong and these measures could help stop it.
This could be a breakthrough moment for the equal pay movement if the soccer team’s exhortations can be turned into real action.