The gender pay gap is an enduring legacy of mankind's history of discrimination based upon gender. For most of history, and continuing in some capacity today (to greater or lesser extents depending upon the society or country in question), women were viewed as intellectually inferior to men, and considered less able to perform many types of work, including in such objectively-gender-neutral fields as law and medicine. While women have succeeded in breaking through those barriers in much of the advanced world--some Islamic and Latin American countries notwithstanding--the pay gap remains very real. Women today are, on average, compensated considerably less well then male counterparts performing the same work. There are those who dispute the continued existence of a gender-based pay gap (see, for example, the 2015 column in Forbes, a link to which is provided below), but those arguments, while not entirely without merit, ignore or downplay the enduring legacy of gender-based discrimination--a practice that denied women the fundamental right to vote until ratification in 1920 of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution. The political marginalization of women, combined with prevailing misconceptions of the relative intellectual capabilities of the two genders (and, yes, I know that there are more than two genders in today's world) created and sustained an environment in which women have been denied full equality in the workplace.
The gender-based pay gap has gradually closed over time, but it remains a problem to the disadvantage of female laborers and executives. What can be done about it? Many argue that the pay gap will only finally be eliminated through the passage of federal laws, or even the ratification of another amendment to the Constitution, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, which was originally introduced in 1923 and vigorously but unsuccessfully promoted during the 1970s. The fact is that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most commonly associated with the struggle among African Americans for equal treatment, also addressed gender-based discrimination. Supporters of the ERA, however, argue that the 1964 law failed to adequately address their concerns and that only an amendment to the Constitution will resolve the matter once-and-for-all. More likely, however, is that a class-action law suit similar to the ongoing one involving allegations that Microsoft Corporation systematically discriminates against its female employees will work its way up to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court, at which time a decision will be issued addressing such matters. The 1987 Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. Transportation Agency (85-1129) upheld the notion that a history of discrimination based upon gender could justify special consideration for female employees, even when male employees are determined to be marginally better-qualified. A similar case involving the pay gap could fundamentally transform the nature of employee compensation structures involving discrepancies between men and women (and, eventually, those individuals who reject categorization as either a man or a woman).