Women Legislators Lead on Pay Equity
More women in office will help close the gender and racial pay gap
At The Ascend Fund, we are committed to gender parity in U.S. politics not only because it’s what’s right, but because it's what’s good for our democracy. Research has shown that women are demonstrably more effective lawmakers, working harder and more collaboratively than their male peers. Not only do women introduce and pass more bills, but they also prioritize legislation that benefits women, children, and families.
Last year, our column, Want to close the gender wage gap? Elect more women to state legislatures, explored how electing women combats the gender wage gap. Just one year later, we found that hypothesis was correct – in 2022 women legislators have introduced and passed legislation to combat the gender wage gap in at least eight states, including New York, California, and Washington.
Progress Towards Pay Equity
There has been almost no progress towards closing the gender wage gap over the last 20 years. Women, on average, still make 77 cents for every dollar made by a white man, and the gap is far more pervasive for women of color. 
Data: The 19th News
To combat the gender wage gap, some states have passed legislation that is proven to decrease inequity – including measures such as salary transparency, banning salary history inquiries, and requiring employers to report on salary bands by race and gender. Often, this legislation has been led by women, many of whom have been trained by The Ascend Fund’s partners.
In New York, State Senator and Vote Run Lead alum Jessica Ramos introduced and passed legislation requiring employers with more than four employees to disclose the salary or salary range for any open roles or promotions. Research shows that such salary transparency helps close wage gaps, especially as salary negotiation is notoriously unfavorable to women, and women’s negotiations are less likely to result in a higher offer. When a salary is disclosed in the job posting, all candidates have a more equal playing field for an initial offer and throughout the negotiation process. The New York law goes into effect on September 17, 2023, and mirrors a New York City salary transparency law passed in 2021, introduced by former Council Member Helen Rosenthal, another Vote Run Lead alum. Speaking about her decision to champion the bill, Senator Ramos said:
“Whether you are a microbusiness or startup, pay discrimination should not be a tool available to you to scale your business.” 
In California, State Senator Monique Limón introduced and passed a bill to build on previous legislation that requires employers to report on salary by sex, race, and ethnicity within each job category. Senator Limón’s bill expands the scope of these reporting requirements to require similar reporting for hourly employees and employees hired through labor contracts. Salary reporting is an important step that allows enforcement agencies to identify employers with patterns of wage gaps and take action to level the playing field. Last year, Senator Limón also introduced and passed legislation to require salary transparency for employers with more than 15 employees. Speaking about her multipronged legislative push to close the gender wage gap, Senator Limón said,
“We must increase pay transparency in order to close the gender and racial wage gap, which prevents women, particularly women of color, from achieving economic security.” 
In Washington State, six women state senators, in partnership with a handful of their male colleagues, introduced and passed legislation to require pay transparency for employers with more than 15 employees. Three of the senators were trained and supported by Ascend’s national partner organizations – Senator Emily Randall was trained by LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, Senator Rebecca Saldaña was a Women’s Democracy Lab Fellow with Vote Mama, and Senator T'wina Nobles was supported by Higher Height’s political partner, Higher Height’s PAC. Speaking about the importance of salary transparency, bill sponsor Senator Randall, the first queer woman elected to the Washington State Senate, said,
“Sometimes women lose out on those roles because of employer bias. I think the salary transparency, in particular, is beneficial for more equity in the workplace and ensuring everyone is entering into the interview process with the same information.” 
Harmful Legislation in Mississippi
While solid blue states such as California and New York have made progress towards reducing the gender pay gap, Mississippi passed a reductive bill in 2022 that will likely increase the gender wage gap in the state. This is especially concerning because Mississippi has one of the largest gender wage gaps in the U.S., with women earning 27% less than men, compared to 19% nationally. Mississippi was the last state in the nation to pass any pay equity legislation, which is not surprising given that Mississippi ranks 48th in the nation for women’s representation in the state legislature – with women making up just 14.4% of legislators.
The Mississippi legislation allows employers to pay women less than men based on their salary history, a practice that is banned in 14 states. Additionally, the bill allows employees to be paid less based on gaps in work experience, which overwhelmingly impacts women as they are more likely to take time off to have a child or take care of a sick family member.  This is especially concerning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more than two million women dropped out of the labor force. 
The Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable (MSBWR), one of The Ascend Fund’s state partners in Mississippi, advocated strongly against this bill and for an effective bill to combat the gender wage gap. Speaking about MSBWR’s opposition to the bill, Executive Director Cassandra Welchlin said,
“We call it the Mississippi unequal pay equal work act because nothing in the bill is equal. And it further discriminates against women, particularly Black women and other women of color." 
Legislation to require salary transparency has already been introduced in a number of states during the 2023 legislative session – including Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and South Carolina – and 11 additional states are considering measures. Additional bills have been introduced across the country to protect employee discussion about pay, prohibit employers from asking about salary history, and require salary reporting. However, with the legislative session winding down or having already ended in many states, wage gap legislation will need to be reprioritized or re-introduced in 2024.
Four states, New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia, have state legislative elections this year, providing an opportunity to elect women who will be fierce advocates for closing the gender wage gap. We encourage you to join our efforts to increase the number of women in state legislatures by learning more about pay equity laws in your state, helping women running for office, and supporting organizations like Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, Vote Run Lead, Vote Mama, Higher Heights, and LGBTQ+ Victory Fund who are electing women who will champion pay equity in their state.
 The 19th - Happy Equal Pay Day? Here are 6 charts showing why it’s not much of a celebration.  New York 1 - Advocates for pay equity and businesses spar in hearing over salary disclosure law  Office of Senator Monique Limon – Senator Limon Introduces Pay Transparency for Pay Equity Act  Kitsap Daily News - Randall points to passage of her salary transparency bill  CBS News - Mississippi set to become last U.S. state with an equal pay law  National Women’s Law Center – Progress in the States for Equal Pay  NPR - Women are returning to (paid) work after the pandemic forced many to leave their jobs  WLBT - Advocates calling attention to Black Women’s Equal Pay Day  Forbes – Four Predictions for Salary Transparency Laws in 2023