Sophia Djeng wants to be a CEO someday. The 11-year-old from Plainsboro also expects to make as much money as any of her male counterparts, and she stood on a stepstool behind a podium to say so.
"I will make sure all my employees are treated fairly, especially in payment," the poised Junior said at the headquarters of Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey on Wednesday.
"I think that people should be given the same opportunities and the same reward for the same hard work, no matter what," she added.
She wasn't alone in that sentiment. Joining her at the event were U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-NJ, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, New Jersey AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Laurel Brennan, American Association of University Women/NJ President Sally Goodson and others who are urging Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The legislation would require companies to document pay gaps between men and women and prohibit employers from retaliating when workers disclose or discuss salary or pay information. It also would allow workers to join class-action suits for gender-based pay differences.
"We don't typically get involved in something with these kinds of political nuances," said GSCNJ CEO Ginny Marino afterward. "But this affects the future of our girls, and we we felt it was important for us to speak out on this matter."
Citing projections by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, she pointed out that current trends indicate the wage gap will remain until 2058.
"We'll lose an entire generation of women," she said. "Sophia and girls her age will be retired by then."
Citing U.S. Department of Labor statistics, Norcross pointed out that women earn $0.79 for every dollar earned by men; for women of color, that gap widens to $0.60 for African American women and $0.55 for Latina women. Women have to work an average of 100 days more than men each year to match their male counterparts' annual salary, the Labor Department found.
"The success of our girls is predicated upon the notion that women and girls have an equal shot to be financially sound and successful," Marino said.
"The Girl Scouts here today follow Girl Scout law, which pledges honesty, fairness, courage, responsibility and respect," said Norcross, a former union leader.
"It's predicated on the notion that the playing field is level, and that they receive equal pay for equal work. And yet we are here today because the persistent wage gap tells us that this is not the case."
"Very simply, it is discrimination," Norcross said, noting women serve in combat roles in the U.S. Armed Forces, have traveled into space, serve on the Supreme Court and, in South Jersey, are among some of the region's most prominent CEOs, including at Camden-based Campbell's Soup and American Water, based in Voorhees.
Last week, Norcross joined state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald in an effort to bring what they call a "fair wage" to workers both statewide and nationally.
The effort includes a federal bill to raise the minimum wage, introduced to Congress by Norcross, a Camden County Democrat; and a state bill introduced by Sweeney and Greenwald, Democrats from Gloucester and Camden counties, respectively, would put the question to voters via a statewide referendum.
To be placed on the ballot, the bill, sponsored in the state Senate by Sweeney and in the Assembly by Greenwald, would need to pass both houses with a 3/5 majority this year or by a simple majority two consecutive years to go on the 2017 ballot.
The Sweeney/Greenwald bill would raise the state's minimum wage to $9 effective Jan. 1 the year after it passes; thereafter, it would increase by $1 per year until it reaches $15. The Norcross bill would raise the federal minimum wage to $8 an hour no later than Jan. 1, 2017 and by $1 per year afterward.
A spring 2016 AAUW study found pay gaps have persisted and have not changed in a decade, even when adjusting for factors such as women who opt out of the workforce, take time off to have children and educational differences.
Phaedra Trethan: (856) 486-2417; firstname.lastname@example.org