Philadelphia’s mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill on Jan. 23 prohibiting employers from asking applicants about their salary history. Women’s rights activists favor the bill because it will help lower the pay gap between men and women. Employers do not like it. They claim that it will hurt business. This claim reveals the practice of paying some employees less than other employees for the same work.
Inequity in pay is common. When I was a vice president at a Chicago brokerage, I hired many people. With each hire, I knew my department needs and budget. I also knew the job market and had a rough idea of applicant expectations. For the jobs that I was responsible to fill, in my experience, gender played very little role in an employee’s performance. Women can do anything men can do. Across the economy, evidence supports my experience. Yet, in 2016, female full-time workers still earned roughly 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent.
How is the gender wage gap a justice issue? Or rather, how is it a theological issue? If we answer the first question, the second question seems obvious. God seeks justice. For example, one of the hundreds (thousands, depending on how one counts) of Bible verses about God’s demand for justice is Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Christians serve a God of justice. Therefore, justice issues are, by definition, theological issues.
In the parable about the laborers in the vineyard, the employer pays everyone the same wage, whether they arrived early in the morning or just before closing time. Without the biblical reference, ardent capitalists might decry that kind of pay equity as communism. Matthew 20:1-16 undermines their criticism. In Matthew 20:16, Jesus says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Corporations exist to increase shareholder value. God exists for God’s purposes and may or may not share a vision with corporations. If increasing shareholder value requires unequal and unjust practices, corporations evaluate the cost versus the benefits. For example, if they can hire five women for the price of four men, then they might rationalize the inequity by arguing that they created an additional job or are able to increase productivity with the additional employee. But is it right to pay someone less simply because they can? No.
Corporations are not evil. They are human creations and part of the economy. They provide jobs and, by achieving economies of scale, innovate on a scale that is unimaginable to small businesses. Government rules and regulations, whether locally, nationally or internationally, help keep corporations just. Public opinion influences corporate behavior too.
Philadelphia’s new law will help employers practice greater justice in hiring. It is a small move, but a move in the direction of reducing the gender wage gap. The law is a step toward a more just world.