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Sallie Krawcheck, Mascara and Equal Pay

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Today, April 9, is Equal Pay Day, the day we note women earn less than men for similar work. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn, on average, just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

I wrote my first opinion piece on the gender-based wage gap back in 2008 and I have published something on the issue every Equal Pay day since. The gap hasn't changed in the last five years, nor have my arguments on why we need to close it. Women are breadwinners in more than fifty percent of U.S. households. When we shortchange those women, we shortchange their families, their communities where they buy goods and services, and the economy overall. I was starting to think I had nothing fresh to say on the topic, and then last Tuesday, at the annual Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston, keynote Sallie Krawcheck reminded me of yet another reason we need to close the gap.

Krawcheck, past president of Global Wealth & Investment Management for Bank of America and former CEO and chairman for Citi Global Wealth Management, was talking about one of the workplace barriers women face that receives very little attention -- hair and makeup. She pointed out that if a woman spends 15 minutes a day doing her hair and applying her game face, that time adds up to an hour and 15 minutes a week, 5 hours a month and 60 hours a year -- hours that a very tired working woman could put to better use getting rest. (And 60 hours is a conservative estimate that doesn't factor in shaving legs or plucking eyebrows.) Krawcheck's point in raising the issue was that some workplace barriers can't be removed by simply telling women to work harder.

Listening to Krawcheck, I started to think not just about the time women spend on dressing for work, but also the money. Maybelline mascara costs approximately $5.49. A tube of drugstore lipstick averages $8.20 and powder averages $8.89. If a woman buys only those items every three months, she'll spend $90.32 in a year. Chances are she'll pay at least $10 more for a haircut than a man will at any salon. So with just trimming split ends every six weeks and applying a basic drugstore face, she'll spend $150 a year. Most likely, by the time that woman reaches her 40s, she'll spend significantly more. I know I do. Hair and makeup may seem like a trivial issue, but it's not. As Krawcheck pointed out in her keynote, women can't simply forgo the maintenance; studies have shown well-groomed people get ahead.

Last year, Marie Claire published an article titled "Why Women Pay More." According to the magazine's research, women are apt to be charged more for everything from health insurance, to car repairs, to dry cleaning and even deodorant. We pay more just to get ready for work, but get paid less for the work we do.

From mascara to mortgages, women's paychecks are stretching further and further each year. The items we purchase aren't discounted 23 percent, yet our paychecks are. It doesn't add up.

Earlier this year, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Barbara Mikulski reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation which would help close the gender-based wage gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It would prohibit employer retaliation for sharing salary information with coworkers and increase the compensation women could seek for pay discrimination, allowing them to pursue back pay and punitive damages.

So while it's true we can't eliminate some workplace barriers by telling women to work harder, we can eliminate others by telling Congress to do so. It's time for our legislators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and close the gender-based wage gap.