Jane E. Smith

(WOMENSENEWS)–When my boys were young they would ask me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. Each year I would respond with a "pie in the sky" request like world peace or simply a day that involved no bickering between the youngsters. They would always roll their eyes at me and beg me to name something more attainable, something they could buy at the local department store. But I never gave in. To this day, they accuse me of "thinking big."

As my sons have grown older, they have stopped inquiring about my ideal Mother’s Day gift. Instead, they surprise me with beautiful flowers, cards and drawings from my grandchildren. So this year, I’m going to address my Mother’s Day wish to the business community and the United States Congress.

All I want for Mother’s Day is equal pay. And since I haven’t stopped "thinking big," I’d like Congress to put its stamp of approval on welfare reform that includes sufficient funding for quality, affordable child care.

To some people, these requests are "pie in the sky," but I know differently, and I also know that women cannot afford another year without pay equity and quality, affordable child care.

As many of us know, the average woman is paid only 73 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns, and this wage gap of 27 cents widens significantly for women of color. Each year, women from around the country call attention to this inequity during Equal Pay Day, and each year conservative "think tanks" publish studies and reports denying the existence of a wage gap or blaming the wage gap on women’s choices.

Many Companies Want to Do Right Thing

But these "think tanks" do not work directly with working women, and I do. I believe that most companies want to do the right thing, but unfortunately, wanting to do the right thing is not a guarantee for most working women. Instead, these women find themselves being paid less for doing the same work as their male co-workers and sometimes less than the men who report to them.

I have never been one to point to a problem without offering a solution. As I see it, the solution to the wage gap is two-fold: business accountability and legislation.

First, I encourage companies that want to recruit and retain hardworking, productive, loyal employees to conduct internal audits of their pay scales to ensure that they are paying employees fairly. I consider these audits to be insurance against potential pay inequities.

Equal Pay Act Loopholes Should Be Closed

Second, I ask the United States Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 77, HR 781). This legislation would close wide-open loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, thereby strengthening the only piece of legislation this country has to assist victims of wage discrimination.

The combination of the business community adopting transparent pay practices, along with the passage of strong legislation to punish companies that pay women unfairly, will go a long way to ensuring that working women and their families are no longer shortchanged.

And now, on to my second Mother’s Day wish. As long as I have been a mother, I have been a working mother. Therefore, I depended on child care for my sons when they were young. Child care for most families in this country is not "optional." Sixty-five percent of mothers with children under age 6 and 78 percent of mothers with children ages six to 13 are in the labor force, meaning 13 million children are in child care every day.

Despite this reality, the business community and our legislators have not made quality, affordable child care a priority. Yes, some companies have installed on-site day care facilities or offer parents pre-tax flexible spending accounts to offset child care costs; but, by and large, parents are negotiating the child care terrain alone.

I encourage the business community and women’s organizations to form partnerships, to develop solutions to the lack of quality, affordable child care that working families desperately need. Women’s organizations understand the difficulties women face in trying to balance work and family and businesses understand that they cannot afford to lose the valuable contributions women bring to the workforce. Together we can solve this problem.

Welfare Changes Created Unmet Need for Child Care

The issue of child care is a weighty one this year because Congress is considering welfare-reform options, some of which include funding for child care. With so many women leaving welfare and entering the workforce, the need for child care has grown. Today, only one in seven eligible children receives the quality care they need.

When my children were young, there was a television commercial that asked viewers, "It’s 11 p.m., do you know where your children are?" I ask our legislators to contemplate a similar question, "It’s 11 a.m., do you know where your children are?"

For many working families, the answer to that is: "They are in low-quality day care with poorly-trained staff."

I urge the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to support $20 billion in new investments in the Child Care and Development Block Grant to double the number of eligible children served and help 2 million more children receive child care. Investing in our children–the next generation–must be a priority for Congress.

Mother’s Day is May 12. I look forward to receiving flowers, cards and cute drawings from my grandchildren. But, I will continue to "think big" and envision the day when the business community and Congress fulfill the wishes of mothers across this country and give us the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all: equal pay and affordable child care.

Jane E. Smith is chief executive officer for Business and Professional Women/USA, an 82-year-old organization with 37,000 members throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Smith is responsible for moving the organization toward its mission of achieving equity for all working women.



For more information:

Business and Professional Women/USA:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The Administration for Children and Families
The Child Care Bureau:

National Committee on Pay Equity: