SEATTLE -- It’s been a four-year battle in Olympia but equal pay is now front and center for women because of a new law that was enacted this year.
Supporters say employers are now on notice to change if they are paying women less just because of their gender.
Kristin Smith, a successful tech executive, says she’s been paid less just because she is a woman.
Currently she is the chief operating officer at Dolly, a Seattle startup.
At Dolly she is passionate about performance but also equally passionate about equal pay for women.
Smith says that while working for another tech company years ago she found out that a male co-worker who started at the same time was making more than she was.
“He was getting paid 20% more than I was and I was more educated had more experience,” Smith said.
Smith says it felt like a kick in the gut.
“I felt less appreciated for sure,” Smith said.
In Smith’s case, information was power and it helped her to change things around.
That’s why she supports the equal pay legislation passed this year sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island.
Senn says the law will do a number of things.
“Making sure employees can talk about their wages without fear of retaliation,” Senn said.
She says it’s pulling back the curtain on what once was a taboo subject.
She’s even encouraging people to openly talk about their salaries, even if it stirs up drama.
“I hope not, but even if it does, sometimes drama makes important changes,” Senn said.
According to the Economic Opportunity Institute, in 2016 women working full-time on average made about 76% of a man’s wage.
The institute says women also make less across the board in most occupations.
Senn says many women would probably be shocked to realize the kind of pay gaps that exist today.
Senn says it’s fine for employers to pay someone more based on merit, performance and education, but now the law shifts the burden on the employer to prove they are paying fairly.
“If there is consistently a gap there is something else at play,” Smith said.
And if that’s the case, workers can file a complaint with the state to investigate their company, something that usually ended up in the legal system before.
Some states that passed a similar law also ban employers from asking potential hires what they currently make. Washington law doesn’t have that, but Senn advised that if you are asked that, you don’t have to answer. She says many times women who answer the question get stuck in a cycle of being underpaid.