Ledbetter Bill More Photo Op than Breakthrough

Today, Lilly Ledbetter defeats wage discrimination against women, right? Don’t count on it. The Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Bill gets signed into law today. But I doubt that this will be more than a photo op. Not because Lilly’s story isn’t powerful. (She proved she was paid 40% less for the same work.) And not because President Obama is insincere. But because it’s just not breakthrough enough. It’s a rule that’s made to be broken.

Gwen Ifill nailed it when she dubbed President Obama a “breakthrough” personality. He crushed race barriers to the point where Americans now accept a lot of black talent in high positions. Look at his cabinet. Change begins with laws, but throughout the American story, it is individuals who galvanize a moment in history so there is no going back.

Who can do the same for women? Madeline Albright made headway. Hillary had her day. But if women are truly going to break through to earn equal money, power and influence—a breakthrough female will have to take center stage and bring with her lots of other talented women. That last part is essential. Executive women have a track record of not surrounding themselves with other women because they fear they will be judged negatively for doing so. How twisted is that?

Consider also that Barack Obama holds the most powerful job in the world today in part because of programs and policies that put teeth in civil rights laws. The 1965 Affirmative Action policy rightfully opened doors for generations of African Americans. That laid the foundation for Obama’s presidency to even become a possibility.

Is there an equivalent policy that puts teeth in the Ledbetter Bill? I’m looking, but not finding it.

It’s funny. I still get arguments from men that pay discrimination doesn’t really exist. I’ve developed a muscle to suppress my laughter in these situations. The painful truth is that women, and deep down men, know it’s true. That’s why Obama’s campaign ad telling Lilly’s story hit a nerve with Republican women. It ran on Fox and pulled Republicans to crossover better than ad in the entire campaign.

When I watch my daughter doing her homework, I imagine that some woman in her generation will be the breakthrough female. I have to believe that. Or I can’t go on.

Yes we shall?

Photo Courtesy National Organization for Women