Barack Obama photo

Remarks Commemorating the Seventh Anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

January 29, 2016

Thank you, everybody. Everybody, have a seat. Thank you so much. I heard you all were in the house so I wanted to stop by. [Laughter]

We've got some important personages here, so let me just call them out. We've got Senator Amy Klobuchar. Where's Amy? There she is. Our outstanding Labor Secretary Tom Perez. The Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jenny Yang, is here. One of my favorites, the outstanding Billie Jean King is in the house. And of course, Lilly Ledbetter is here. Lilly has just become a dear friend to our family, and I can tell you that she's beloved not just by us, but by all the staff that work with her. She's just terrific. As she just mentioned, she was by my side when I signed my first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Fair—Fair Pay Act. And I was looking at a picture of that wonderful event, and she looks the same. [Laughter] And I don't. [Laughter]

But while we've got a lot to celebrate that day, we knew that our work wasn't done. We knew we had a lot more to do to close the pay gap between men and women and ensure that no woman would ever face the kind of discrimination that Lilly faced on the job.

And everybody here knows the numbers, and many of you have experienced it. Today, women account for almost half of the workforce. But the typical woman who works full time still earns 79 cents for every dollar that the typical man does. The gap is even wider for women of color. The typical Black working woman makes only 60 cents. The typical Latino woman makes only 55 cents for every dollar a White man earns. And that's not right. We're talking about oftentimes folks doing the same job and being paid differently. And it means that women are not getting the fair shot that we believe every single American deserves.

It doesn't just offend our values. At a time when women are increasingly the breadwinners in our households, paying them less makes it harder for families to cover the necessities like childcare or health care, just to pay the bills. It makes it harder for a family to save, harder for families to retire. It means local businesses have customers with less money to spend. So it's not good for our communities. It's not good for our families. It's not good for our businesses. What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?

So today we're taking one more step in the right direction. We are proposing to collect and report pay data by race, ethnicity, and gender from businesses with 100 employees or more. And the goal is to help businesses that are trying to do the right thing, like the ones here today, to get a clearer picture of how they can ensure their employees are being treated equally. A better picture of the data will also help us do a better job enforcing existing equal pay laws.

Now, this won't solve every problem. We've still got to get more women and girls into high-paying fields like science and technology, engineering and math. We've still got to make sure that women are not penalized or held back in the workplace simply for starting a family. Guys, we're responsible for the family thing too. [Laughter] And they're already doing more work than we are in getting that thing going. They shouldn't be penalized twice or three times. [Laughter] We still need to raise the minimum wage, guarantee sick—[applause]—guaranteed paid sick and family leave, fully protecting pregnant workers, finally passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to give workers more tools to fight pay discrimination.

And all of us have to make sure that all of our young girls know that we're invested in their success. And by the way, I do want to emphasize there are businesses that are doing the right thing. We've got a good friend of ours, Marc Benioff, CEO of, which is consistently shown as one of the companies people most like to work for. And part of the reason is, is that Marc understands that his company thrives when he is drawing from the entire pool of talent out there and making sure that everybody is having a chance to thrive and succeed at his company. And when people see that, they're working harder and more productive and more enthusiastic. And ultimately, they make more money.

So this is not an either-or proposition, this is a win-win situation proposition if we think about it in the right way. That's part of what Billie Jean taught us so many years ago. I mean, those of you who are tennis fans, let's face it, a lot of times the women's tournaments are more interesting than men's. [Laughter]And the notion that somehow we would be keeping my daughters or Marc's daughters or any of your daughters out of opportunity, not allowing them to thrive in every field, not letting them fully participate in every human endeavor, that's counterproductive. That's not how we're going to build a great future for our country.

So that's why, this May, the White House Council on Women and Girls will lead a day focused on women in America and around the world. And we're going to bring people from all across the country to examine the progress that we've made and the work that remains to give every woman and girl in this country a fair shot at success. And we're going to keep pushing until every single girl has the rights and the opportunities and the freedom to go as far as her dreams will take her.

This will be a long haul. One of the things that I am consistently reminding young people when they're working here in the White House is that social change never happens overnight. It is a slog. And there are times where you just have to chip away and chip away, and then suddenly, there may be some breakthroughs. But it's reliant on all of us to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, to just be steady and persistent and understand that the work that we do today is ultimately going to lead to a better future tomorrow.

And we will not see necessarily all the fruits of that labor. The same way that Lilly described her endeavors—when she lost that court case, she could have given up, but she didn't. And that spirit is what all of us have to adopt. That's the spirit that built America. That's the spirit that opened up opportunity for so many more people than a generation ago. And that's the spirit that I intend to keep pushing as long as I have the privilege to be in this office. All right?

Thank you, everybody.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:19 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to former professional tennis player Billie Jean King, founder, Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative; and Lilly Ledbetter, former employee, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, AL.

Barack Obama, Remarks Commemorating the Seventh Anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives