Federal Pay: Culture of Pay Secrecy is Coming to an End

equalby Patricia A. Shiu and Latifa Lyles

Lilly Ledbetter’s name has become synonymous with the pursuit of fair pay. For most of her career, she was like far too many women in the United States: underpaid and unaware. But did you know that the anonymous note Lilly received from a co-worker – the note that finally alerted her to the pay discrimination she had been subjected to for nearly 20 years – could have cost that colleague his or her job?

That’s because Lilly’s employer had strict pay secrecy policies in place. Neither Lilly nor her co-workers could talk about what they were paid and, thereby, advocate for their own equal pay.

Well, that culture of pay secrecy is coming to an end for companies doing business with the federal government.

By signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January 2009, President Obama made it clear that fair pay and gender equality are top priorities for his administration. Earlier this year, he underscored that message by signing Executive Order 13665, instructing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to propose a rule to encourage pay transparency among federal contractors and subcontractors, like Lilly’s employer.

Our proposed rule, which was published in the Federal Register today, would make it easier to address unfair compensation practices by making it safe for workers to discuss, disclose and inquire about their own pay – and the pay of their colleagues – without fear of discrimination.

Although President Obama signed this executive order on Equal Pay Day, a day that highlights the impact of the gender wage gap, women aren’t the only potential beneficiaries. The freedom to discuss compensation without fear of reprisal would give an estimated 28 million American workers the tools to advocate for their own fair pay, just like Lilly did.

What would this proposed rule mean for you? We invite you to learn more about our proposal by visiting DOL.gov. There you can also find a link to share your comments between now and Dec. 16.


Patricia A. Shiu is the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and Latifa Lyles is the director of the Women’s Bureau. Both are members of President Obama’s National Equal Pay Task Force.

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