Hundreds lined the gates of City Hall in the bitter cold recently, holding signs and banners. They were on a mission – to keep Wal-Mart out of New York City.

Activists, city council members and concerned citizens gathered to protest, among other things, Wal-Mart’s mistreatment of female employees.

This is just one example of a problem that continues across the country. Despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women continue to make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and still struggle to climb corporate ladders.

“It’s about more than equal pay for equal work,” said Amy Siskind, president of The New Agenda. She added that men are groomed for promotions and women are not. “Over the course of an average career, a man will be promoted more times than a woman.”

Recently the struggle for equal pay has garnered more media attention.

In March, after nine years of preparation, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether or not 1.6 million women will be able to sue Wal-Mart in what will be the largest class action lawsuit ever. The women claim that they were systematically paid less and overlooked for promotions to managerial and executive positions, even though Wal-Mart vehemently denies these claims.

“Wal-Mart is an excellent place for women to work and has been recognized as a leader in fostering the advancement and success of women in the workplace,” Wal-Mart spokesperson Steve Restivo said in an e-mail message.

Last year, the Senate voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have made it easier for people to sue their employers without any repercussions.

“[The act] took years and years of work,” Siskind said. “It’s both parties fault that this issue is unfortunately not seen as a problem. If President Obama and Harry Reid (the senate majority leader) cared they could’ve twisted some arms for that vote.”
Many hoped this act would solve the pay equity problem, but others think the best way to combat the wage gap is a combination of education and legislation.

“At NOW-NYC and NOW Brooklyn-Queens we have worked consistently on equal pay issues,” said National Organization for Women (NOW) Brooklyn-Queens vice president Rachelle Suissa, 25. “We’ve had events and panels in the past where we’ve had speakers come in from different equal pay organizations.”

WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) Project founder and president Evelyn Murphy, 70, says that women need to be educated enough to know what they deserve before they begin working.

“People think this problem is just going to go away,” she said. “But, it is so woven into every single industry that it is going to take every single working woman to stand up for herself.”

The WAGE Project is one of the only national organizations to design specific programs that combat pay inequality. They hold salary negotiation seminars throughout the country, mostly on college campuses for graduating seniors. The goal of the seminars is to educate women so they know what pay is fair.

“Women don’t know the difference between fair and unfair pay, they often tell me they didn’t know they had to do the research themselves,” Murphy said. “You need to be informed before you go into a salary negotiation. You need to base your argument on facts, not what you’ve heard your friends say.”

In light of a University of Illinois study, which found the wage gap between starting male and female doctors to be almost $17,000 in 2008, Murphy wants to deter women from thinking the problem only lies in lower paying jobs or with minorities.
“There’s really nothing that says this problem can’t be eliminated,” she said. “But all women need to act in order to get employers to react.”