How Can Fashion and Footwear Brands Fight the Gender Wage Gap?

It’s often said that a woman earns about 80 cents to a man’s dollar — but that number might actually be startlingly less.

According to a study released Wednesday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women today earn just 49 cents to the typical men’s dollar. The figures, which are based on data from 2000 to 2015, reveal that female workers make less than half of men’s earnings for a pay gap of 51 percent. (Data from the Census Bureau, which was used in the study, showed that the earnings gap was 20 percent for full-time workers in 2017.)

“Much ink has been spilled debating whether the commonly cited measure of the wage gap — that women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man — is an exaggeration… but our analysis finds that we have actually been underestimating the extent of pay inequality in the labor market,” IWPR president and report co-author Heidi Hartmann said in a statement.

Even more, the report noted that progress has lagged in those 15 years leading up to 2015, compared to the preceding 30 years. And like many other industries, fashion — which is traditionally considered to be predominantly female — also battles with a significant gender wage gap.

Womenswear retailer Karen Millen made headlines in April after reporting that it paid women 49 percent less than men on a median hourly basis. “Our gender gap paints a misleading picture about our commitment to gender diversity and equality,” read a statement from the company, adding that the gap dipped to 6 percent when ruling out head office positions.

Victoria’s Secret and Burberry also reported a gap of 19 percent and 26 percent, respectively. “While we continue to take steps to ensure employees at all levels are able to fulfill their potential and further their careers at Burberry, and are recognized for their contribution, we know we can do more,” said CEO Marco Gobbetti upon the data’s release in March.

A number of companies are becoming more transparent about their compensation practices as well as overhauling their benefits programs in an attempt to reach pay equity for both female and male workers.

Following an internal review, Nike announced in July that it would be raising the salaries of 7,000 employees — about 10 percent of its staff — to “support a culture in which employees feel included and empowered.” The company faced its own #MeToo reckoning when it saw the back-to-back departures of top-level executives after claims of workplace misconduct and discrimination against women came to light over the summer.

Rival sportswear giant Adidas also touted the launch of its #20PercentCounts initiative in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization. (The series of campaigns also brought attention to the statistics that black women are paid 38 percent less on average and Latinas 46 percent less.) This year, Adidas reported a 98 percent rate of paying the same salary to male and female employees in identical roles in the United States. “And we’re striving to reach 100 percent,” global human resources head Karen Parkin told FN’s sister publication, WWD.

Both companies were among those that signed the White House Equal Pay Pledge in 2016, formally known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which served as the first piece of legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law.

Since then, more prominent figures in the fashion industry have taken action, including Tamara Mellon. In July, the designer announced a new round of Series B funding that totaled $24 million, directing the funds not only to product expansion and employee hiring, but also building on her platform for women’s rights. Dubbed “Friends With Benefits,” the initiative recognizes companies such as Patagonia that offer outstanding employee benefits for mothers.

“It’s important to look to other businesses who are investing in and paving the way for working women. We are deeply committed to women’s issues, and we also understand that the largest impact will come from many companies working together,” Mellon said at the time. “This will build a culture that supports working women in all areas, from diversity in leadership to pay equity to maternal benefits.”

Despite decades of equal-pay laws, there is much to be done. Another key finding in the IWPR study detailed higher penalties and earnings losses for women who take time off of work, compared to that of men. It reiterated the importance of employer-provided benefits such as paid family and medical leave as well as affordable child care to allow them consistency in their jobs.

“The good news is that, over the course of the nearly 50 years covered in the study, women have seen considerable progress in the labor force by entering the workforce at higher rates and staying in the labor force for longer periods of time, which have led to higher earnings and a narrower wage gap,” said Stephen J. Rose, the report’s co-author. “As progress on achieving pay equity slows, it will be important to prioritize policies that strengthen women’s labor force attachment.”

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