Santa Clara County's plan to narrow gender wage gap

The sight of the U.S. Woman’s National Soccer Team celebrating its World Cup victory by chanting “equal pay, equal pay!,” renewed debate about pay equity in America. Experts say the issue of pay inequity for women has long simmered beneath the surface in every industry and in every walk of life. 

“I think it’s very interesting that the equal pay issue has come up with regards to sports, and women sports in particular,” said Dr. Colleen Haight, Chairwoman of the San Jose State University Economics Department.

She said gender-based pay inequity started in a time when women performed more domestic duties. But over the decades, social advances have led women to boardrooms, space ships, and leadership roles. She said multiple factors such as age, race, job type, and location all play a factor in the pay gap.

“You are paid not based on how hard you work or how good you are a lot of times. It’s on how the product you are producing is received or in demand by the public,” said Haight.

The public outcry over pay inequity has led to several recent studies which show the pay gap in California is larger than the nation as a whole. It's the worst in Santa Clara County where women earn just 62 cents of what a man earns. Those figures are more distorted for workers in the tech industry.

“This is something that we’re actively studying and trying to understand better,” said Betty Duong, manager of the Santa Clara County Office of Labor Standards Enforcement.

She said the South Bay’s largest county contracts about $2 billion of goods and services each year. Vendors are required to adhere to equal pay laws, and Duong’s office is the watchdog with the power to cancel contracts.

“To ensure that men and women are being paid in an equitable manner. That women are earning dollar-for-dollar what a white man would make,” said Duong. “Women are more prepared and active and ready to do something about this than ever before.”

Experts say vigilance has reduced the national pay gap to the single digits. But complete equity may be a far off goal, in the struggle to dismantle vestiges of the past.