01/31/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2014

Obama's Shout-Out to the Ladies: The Policies Behind His Words


In the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Obama mentioned how outdated our country's work policies on women have become:

Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship -- and you know what, a father does, too. It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode. This year, let's all come together -- Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street -- to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.

-President Barack Obama

After hearing this, I was so relieved. To know that the cause that I have been fighting for has made it all the way to the White House's ears makes me more proud than I can say.

To help the ladies out even more, here are some laws and policies already in place that cover your legal rights to a fair workplace:

1. Civil Rights Act of 1964 - This Act was the first time that pay discrimination was addressed in a legislative context. Title VII of this act prohibited employment discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, and national origin."

This was an important stepping stone for subsequent laws. Perhaps the most known is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama when he took office in 2009. The act prolonged the statute of limitations to file employment discrimination claims -- in other words, the Act extends the amount of time that women are able to file an employment discrimination claim. While not dealing directly with pay, this Act has given women the gift of time -- time to realize, time to respond and time to demand justice.

2. Paycheck Fairness Act - This Act would create incentives for employers to follow the law, help women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen enforcement efforts. This bill has passed the House twice, but failed in the Senate, meaning that we need to take calculated steps to ensure that our male-dominated Senate recognizes that equal pay is an issue worth paying attention to! Currently, U.S. businesses can still legally justify pay disparities with market forces or salary history. This workaround has been called out as one of the "factors that may reflect previous and ongoing sex discrimination."

3. Obama's proposal to raise minimum wage - This new proposal to raise the minimum wage is also an important component of combating gender/pay inequality. There is research that suggests a connection between minimum wage and the gap, saying, "states that have higher wages than the $7.25 federal floor have a gender wage gap that is three cents smaller on average than everywhere else." This change may seem small, but the connection isn't -- more effective working privileges for the American community means a step towards equality for all.