I’m still high on girl power from watching Kathryn Bigelow’s historic Oscar win on Sunday, so today’s post will focus on the pay gap and how you can and should help shrink it.

I realize undoing decades of gender bias regarding compensation feels overwhelming, so here is a concise list courtesy of Mercer offering five reasons employers should continue to focus on pay equity:

1. Presidential emphasis. In his State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his administration’s focus on equal pay, noting that “We’re going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.” Coinciding with the speech, the president announced the establishment of a National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force to ensure that the agencies responsible for equal pay enforcement are coordinating efforts and limiting potential gaps in enforcement.

Translation: The feds are paying closer attention to pay equity, and there will be more enforcement officers ready to come after you if you don’t pay attention to it.

2. Important action on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), recently announced that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee soon will hold hearings on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed in the House last year. This proposed legislation would amend the Equal Pay Act, potentially increasing damage awards and the size of class actions as well as the burden for employers to justify pay differentials.

Translation: Employees who are on the wronged side of pay discrimination may be able to sue you for even more money. Which leads me to No. 3 …

3. Significant EEOC activity. This past year saw significant activity within the federal agencies that oversee pay discrimination. For FY 2009, more than 93,000 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – continuing record level of activity in 2008. The commission also obtained record monetary relief for victims of discrimination last year.

Translation: Employees are fed up and they’re not gonna take it anymore, so watch out.

4. Impact of cost-cutting measures. Difficult workforce and rewards decisions made over the past year in response to the economic downturn like pay freezes and workforce reductions may have inadvertently opened up the potential for pay inequities claims.

5. Certain industries are more at risk of having inadvertent pay equity problems or being actively targeted for scrutiny by federal government agencies:

* Financial services firms will face increased pay equity risk as they shift compensation from objective, results-based rewards to subjective, less-dynamic base pay rates.
* Construction companies will face increased scrutiny due to federal directives stemming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus package).
* Health care organizations are under greater scrutiny as the government looks to establish that they are federal contractors.
* Food services firms will likely continue to be heavily targeted for audit by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Translation: The recession may have left you even more vulnerable to pay equity problems, particularly if you lend, build, heal or serve.

Mercer has given you a fine list to work from here. But of course, the most important reason to resolve any pay disparities is because it’s the right thing to do. The boys club always gets broken up eventually – just ask James Cameron. 

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