By Bryce Covert
The idea isn’t that controversial in other places. Beginning next year, the United Kingdom will require large companies to publish their pay scales broken down by gender for all to see. (It required such a disclosure of the BBC’s top paid employees this year, uncovering a huge disparity in pay between men and women, which set off a firestorm of criticism against the broadcaster.) Norway allows any citizen to look up someone else’s tax returns, and therefore, their pay—so women can compare themselves to male colleagues. Iceland is contemplating going even further: It’s the first country in the world to consider making all companies publicly prove that they pay men and women equally on a regular basis.
President Obama’s disclosure requirement may sound like an obscure administrative change in comparison. But it had the potential to actually improve pay equality. Technically speaking, paying people less because of their gender or race is illegal in this country. Yet women still make just 80 percent of what men work when they work full-time all year long, on average, and women of color make even less. It’s been about a decade since the wage gap has significantly closed.