Business & Tech

SHIRLEY LEUNG

A plea to Ivanka Trump: You can make a difference on equal pay

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 21, 2016 shows Ivanka Trump on the last day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Ivanka Trump, America's incoming first daughter and wife of newly named White House special advisor Jared Kushner, will step down from the Trump Organization and her own label, US media reported on January 10, 2017. The reports came just hours after President-elect Donald Trump announced that her husband would take on a top-level job as special advisor to the incoming Republican commander-in-chief. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Ivanka Trump in July at the Republican National Convention, where she said of her father: “He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this too.”

Dear Ivanka:

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, and I hope it served as a reminder that now is the time to double down on the fight to close the gender wage gap.

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You were off to good start last summer during the Republican National Convention when you introduced your father as a real estate executive who values the contributions of women in the workplace. You described Donald Trump as “color blind and gender neutral” when it comes to hiring.

Then you delivered this campaign promise: “He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this, too, right alongside of him.”

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Now it’s hard to read those words with a straight face.

Your father is so color blind and gender neutral that he has built a Cabinet with the most white males since Ronald Reagan.

Worst yet, your father and Vice President Mike Pence seem to revel in the all-male photo op, especially when it comes to showing how men in charge can take away women’s health care rights.

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But you — and perhaps only you — can change the narrative, Ivanka. You’re not only the first daughter, but you’re now officially employed by the White House, complete with a coveted office in the West Wing.

It was encouraging to see your tweet on Tuesday: “#EqualPayDay is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work. We must work to close the gender pay gap!”

Where to start? That’s easy.

Take a stand, and declare your support for the federal government’s equal pay project that some business groups want to kill. Starting next year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will require large employers to collect pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity so that wage inequities can be detected.

Transparency is half the battle. Women make on average 80 cents for every dollar a man earns — or about $10,500 less annually. Equal Pay Day marks how far into the year women must work to earn what men were paid in the previous year. At the current rate of change, the wage gap won’t disappear until 2059!

The disparity grows starker by race, according to an analysis of Census data by advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families. For example, black women are paid 63 cents and Latinas just 54 cents for every dollar paid to a white male.

The new federal rule would affect 63 million employees. It’s a huge opportunity to close the gap because many companies prefer to bury their heads in the sand. They’ll tell you it’s enough that federal laws protect female workers from discrimination; that keeping tabs will be costly; and if companies conduct such salary reviews and find disparities, they may open themselves up to litigation.

In other words, if we don’t know it’s a problem, then we don’t have to fix a thing.

It’s the same excuses some employers in Massachusetts carted out when lawmakers proposed pay equity legislation. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey worked with Beacon Hill and business groups last year to come up with a law that everyone could live with. Massachusetts now has a groundbreaking pay equity law. Maybe you can say something to Jeff Sessions.

Even the male-dominated tech industry sees the light on transparency after prodding from activist investor Natasha Lamb. Her shareholder resolutions pushed seven tech giants — including Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft — to report data and disclose how they deal with gender pay inequities. Now Lamb has her eye on six major financial firms, among them Bank of America, American Express, and Citigroup.

What else can you do? You’ve made clear that motherhood hurts a woman’s ability to achieve equal pay. The wage gap tends to be the smallest at the beginning of a woman’s career, before she has children. Afterward, women’s paychecks shrink further, with working mothers earning only 70 cents for every dollar a working father makes, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

This is what you said last July at the Republican convention: “As a mother myself, of three young children, I know how hard it is to work while raising a family. And I also know that I’m far more fortunate than most. American families need relief. Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm.”

You know what this means, and you haven’t been shy about it: Making child care affordable and mandating paid maternity leave.

As Congress works on tax reform legislation, you’ve been pushing for a broad set of generous tax deductions to offset child-care costs for families. You’re going to face an uphill battle, but don’t let the naysayers get to you. People will want to dismiss outright any child-care plan as too expensive — one analysis pegged it as much as $500 billion over a decade.

Any plan will cost a lot of money, because, well, child care is expensive. In Massachusetts, it’s about $17,000 annually for an infant. It’s about time our government picked up more of the tab so women don’t have to choose between their careers and their children. Your particular plan might get shot down, but dig in your high heels, and wrangle a compromise out of this Republican-controlled Congress.

Same thing with maternity leave, but I would make this suggestion: Don’t just urge for a fix that would require employers to offer six weeks of paid maternity leave; rather, broaden the idea to paid parental leave or even paid family leave.

By only giving women the option of staying home after the birth of a child, that still puts the burden of child care on women. Parental leave allows both men and women to share in the responsibility. You could also decide to get behind paid family leave legislation in Congress that would create a comprehensive program for new mothers and fathers, and people who need to time off to take care of serious personal or family health issues.

A lot of people have been asking — including my colleagues on the editorial board what qualifies you to be a White House adviser. It’s another unprecedented move by your unconventional father.

Now it’s your turn to prove to the world why you belong there. Surprise us, and help your father keep his campaign promise on equal pay.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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