Trump's White House nixes Obama effort to collect data on pay by gender and race



Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House says it will halt a rule that would make businesses report how much they pay workers of different genders and races.

The announcement takes aim at a major plank of the President Barack Obama’s equal pay legacy. His administration expanded the scope of the equal employment opportunity survey to include the requirements through an executive action last year.

The hope was that the change would help illuminate systemic wage discrimination against women and minorities, a problem that persists in part because of limited available data.

But businesses immediately complained of the administrative strain the regulation would put on their operations and questioned whether the information would be useful or securely handled.  

As was widely expected, Donald Trump’s administration sided with them. The memo directing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to stay the rule called it “unnecessarily burdensome,” claimed the data lacked “practical utility,” and cited privacy and confidentiality concerns, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“I do hope that this decision will prompt a discussion of other more effective solutions,” said a statement from Victoria Lipnic, acting chair of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the regulatory budgeting group that wrote the memo.

The government has collected information on the gender and ethnic composition of the American workforce through the survey in question for decades. But companies have never been asked to include corresponding salaries and wages until Obama’s executive order.

Only businesses with 100 or more employees and certain smaller companies with federal contracts are required to submit it.

Advocates of the policy say it would go a long way toward shining a light on entrenched wage gaps and the patterns necessary to understand them, instead of forcing them to rely on anecdotes that don’t always tell the whole story.

“We’d learn about a pay-discrimination problem because someone saw a piece of paper left on a copy machine or someone was complaining about their salary to co-workers,” said Obama-era EEOC head Jenny Yang at a recent law conference, according to the Journal

The White House’s decision comes as discussion around gender discrimination has come to a head in Silicon Valley, where women and people of color remain scarce, and company cultures and investment structures are often stacked against them. Google currently faces a labor department probe for “extreme” systemic gender gaps, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to step down after widespread allegations of rampant sexual harassment within the company.

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