Despite the Equal Pay Act, passed over 50 years ago, gender pay inequality in the US persists everywhere from boardrooms to small businesses. Even in Hollywood, A-list actresses like Amy Schumer and Sandra Bullock are revealing that they’re earning a fraction of their male co-stars’ wages. On average in the U.S., women make 79 cents for every dollar that men make, but in some states, the disparity is far worse.
A report released last week by Payscale, which took into account data from 1.4 million employees, breaks down gender pay inequality state by state. The worst gap exists in Louisiana, where men earn a whopping 30.1 percent more than women. That means that women are earning approximately 66 cents for every dollar that men are earning.
Last week in New Orleans, graphic designer Elana Schlenker opened up 66<100, a pop-up shop to raise awareness about Louisiana’s atrocious pay gap. Her business model might raise some eyebrows: she’s only charging women 66 percent of what she’s charging men.
66<100 is part of Schlenker’s project, LessThan100, which began with a shop in Pittsburg back in April. That store charged customers according to the pay gap in Pennsylvania, which at the time was 76 cents to the dollar.
Schlenker’s aim for the pop-up shops isn’t commercial; instead, she’s hoping to spark conversation and raise awareness about the gender pay gap. The shop features work by local artists, makers, and entrepreneurs, and all profits go directly to those featured. Schlenker is also hosting community workshops and events. “So many women have come into the store with real stories about how this has impacted them. I think New Orleans is an important place to do this,” said Schlenker in an interview with Women in the World.
But the shop isn’t just engaging women. Men are also wandering in, and willingly accepting the higher price tags. “Every time a guy walks in I’m sort of bracing myself for him to be upset about it, but that’s never happened,” said Schlenker. “Some men have just sort of moved on, but generally, they’ve been very receptive, and understood that the shop is trying to address the issue.” For the shop, Schlenker has partnered with New Orleans local artist Tammy Mercure. “People here know the wage gap isn’t great, but the extent isn’t necessarily visible or obvious,” said Mercure. “It may not seem unusual here to have to hustle at the end of the month to make rent.”
Schlenker’s pop-up shop, located on New Orleans’ historic Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, will be open to the public through November 30, 2015. She’s also welcoming community and youth groups in to discuss the wage gap, and hosting a free negotiation workshop on November 10. “I think that’s such an important way to approach this issue, because it’s tangible. It’s something that women can do now,” said Schlenker. She’s hoping to expand the project to other cities and abroad.
Though women can play a role in advocating for themselves, recent findings show that companies and employers could play a key role in eliminating the pay gap by disclosing it to their employees. A year after consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers voluntarily released its 15.1 percent gender pay gap, the number of women promoted jumped to twice what it had been. “Making salaries internally available would be a great way to start,” Mercure offered. “The gap would probably disappear if everyone knew what everyone else was making. Tulane and other larger employers in Louisiana could play a big role in that.”