08/29/2013 09:57 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2013

Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' Speech

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" was an emotional and poignant moment for me. Growing up in Arkansas, the civil rights movement was always in the background. My parents were raised in a time where everything was segregated -- schools, churches, restaurants, theaters. Although great strides were made during my parent's generation, as one of the first members of my family to go to a desegregated school, I still experienced the remnants of racism.

Yesterday, President Obama paid homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "in a celebration of a half-century of progress and a call to arms for the next generation," and I can't help but reflect on how far we've come, but also how far we have to go.

President Obama went on to say, "To dismiss the magnitude of this progress- - to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed -- dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete."

One of the great injustices that still exists is the gender gap between what men and women earn. For every dollar a man earns, white women earn 77 cents, Black women earn 69 cents and Latina women earn just 57 cents. According to the National Women's Law Center, a typical woman who works full time, year-round will lose $443,360 over a 40-year period due to the wage gap; a woman would have to work almost 12 years longer to earn the same lifetime salary as her male peer.

What is the cause of the gender pay gap and the lag on woman's pay? There are many reasons why women's pay lags behind that of men. Contributing issues such as gender segregation in occupations, discrimination and inadequate family leave policies are systemic, interrelated and complex.

If we want to make a change, everyone must commit to closing the gender pay gap. According to Bloomberg editors Carol Hymowitz and Cecile Daurat, the best-paid female leaders earn an average take-home salary of $5.3 million dollars -- roughly 18% less than their male peers.

Women must commit to negotiating for higher pay and advocating for themselves. Organizational leaders must commit to hiring, giving raises to and promoting women at the same pay levels as men. Human Resources departments must commit to creating and administering the systems that support pay equity. Women should not be afraid to consult a professional -- including perhaps a lawyer -- if they feel they are the victim of gender discrimination.

Closing the gender pay gap will benefit us all -- employers and employees. Equality between women and men is vital for the creation of quality jobs providing greater profitability to the economy as a whole and a more equal, productive, and peaceful society.