When It Comes to a Woman’s Money, What’s with the Punishment Slap on the Wrist?

It seems like every other day some media or tech company is settling a lawsuit. Discrimination this, monopoly that, to the tune of millions of dollars. But I’ve noticed a pattern. When the suit involves women and minorities vs. say, a company, the restitution is considerably smaller.

Take Vice Media, for instance. The company has agreed to pay $1.87 million to resolve a class action lawsuit. Last year, some 675 female employees accused the media company of pay discrimination. Break that down, and after attorney’s fees et al, each person gets roughly $1,600, according to Fast Company.

That’s not enough. I mean, granted, I don’t know how long each person worked there, what their skills and/or roles were. It still doesn’t seem like much, and the peanut butter approach leaves me stone cold.

I’m often in the something’s better than nothing school of thought. But it gets seriously boring when women and minorities are the ones who are always settling, you know? These aren’t one off situations. Remember, I led this blog with an observation on how common these situations are these days.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wanna be a hard ass and be like, put Vice Media out of business with some huge, billion dollar penalty. That would hurt a lot of working professionals who may or may not have had anything to do with the root issue. I’m saying, when gender pay inequity is a systemic problem throughout an organization, is a lawsuit settlement enough?

I mean, what if an organization does have a systemic problem underpaying its female employees. A $2 million dollar slap on the wrist isn’t going to fix the problem, is it?

It’s more like a “wake the fu$! up, we’re watching you” slap, not a “change your ways or else” punch. And honestly, it’s more likely to entrench the issue and lead to more retaliation inequity because, again, you’re not dealing with the foundational problem. You’re cutting off the top of the plant, the part people can see. The diseased root is still there, waiting to sprout new, diseased limbs.

Graphic garden imagery aside, you know what I mean. According to the articles I read, Vice had a habit of hiring young women specifically to avoid paying substantive salaries. Habits are hard to break. Especially if no one points that oh so crooked finger at the habit and says, “change this by this date, or there will be more punishment waiting.”

Further, the suit alleged that Vice relied on prior salaries to set pay for employees. Everyone and their mother knows that women are typically paid less than men. Assuming these two things are well known – and following the lawsuit and resulting publicity, we can assume that’s a safe bet – what happens now?

Is the company planning to audit all of its female employees pay to determine where there are inequities so that it can correct them? Maybe so, I might not have read that article. But somehow, as much as that course of action would seem both logical and necessary – as much as I sincerely hope that actually does happen – I don’t think that’s what we can expect to occur next.

“The settlement comes as the company is in the midst of responding to a cultural crisis, following a New York Times article last year that detailed rampant sexual misconduct. Since then, former A&E Networks president Nancy Dubuc has taken over the company from founder Shane Smith,” according to the aforementioned Fast Company article.

It’s like, Happy Equal Pay Day, you know? At a time when women like me earn just $.63 for every $1 the white man earns for the same work, I’d like a little bit more. Otherwise, when does it end? Companies can pay fines forever, but until the fines are so punitive and expansive that the organizations are forced to learn the lesson – or at least pretend like they did – how do the punishments actually help women?

It’s so annoying. When it comes to systemic organizational change that impacts women and minorities, things happen slower than molasses can drip. It’s not a year’s salary women have to worry about. It’s lost income over an entire career. Lost income that impacts quality of life, family, retirement, choice, everything. A $1,600 check can’t compare.

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