“Restoring opportunity for all has to be our priority, making sure the economy rewards hard work for every single American. Because when women succeed, America succeeds,” Obama said in a speech to mark the signing of the order.
“We are going to work to make sure that our daughters have the same chance to pursue their dreams as our sons,” he added, urging businesses and the government to do more to hire women and achieve gender equality in a bid to lift families out of poverty and allocate more resources to child care, college tuition and retirement savings.
“We don’t have second-class citizens in this country,” Obama said.
Tuesday’s signing coincides with National Equal Pay Day, serving as a reminder that more than 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was made law, women still earn less then men. On average, women earn only about 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. African-American women and Latinas take home even less, just 64 cents and 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white men, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). Obama called the numbers “embarrassing,” and “wrong.”
“It is good to move the ball forward on improving our equal pay policies,” Fatima Graves, NWLC vice president for education and employment, told Al Jazeera. “It’s important because right now workers are left in the dark about wage disparity information.”
“Penalizing pay secrecy is an important step that sends a strong message,” she said. But, Graves added, Obama’s order, which affects only federal contractors and does nothing to protect female employees in the private sector, “doesn’t complete the job.”
“What we really need is for Congress to pass the Fair Paycheck Act which would get at all workers,” she said.
A Senate vote on that act, slated for Tuesday, would extend the order’s requirements to most other employers. However, the bill has already failed to pass twice, despite evidence that pay transparency can reduce the gender wage gap. In the federal government, for example, where pay rates are publicly available, the gender wage gap is much smaller than in the private sector, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.