Illustration by Max Fleishman

How women in the White House got heard—even if they didn’t get equal pay

The pay gap continues to be a problem across the United States even for women working in The White House.


Nidia Cavazos


Published Sep 15, 2016   Updated May 26, 2021, 12:31 am CDT

In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act to prohibit discrimination in payment on the basis of gender.

Fifty-three years later, a pay gap between women and men dominates the United States. On average, a woman working full time for one year will earn 79 percent of what her male counterpart earns, according to the White House.  

Despite the efforts over the years to reduce the gap, even women with some of the highest government positions are affected. This week, the Washington Post published a deep-dive feature and video into what it’s like to be a woman working in the White House. Four women were featured from various presidential administrations—their positions did not exempt them from pay inequality.

Work in the White House for a woman can mean being on call 24 hours a day for seven days a week, elbowing her way into meetings, getting her viewpoints dismissed, and not having access to her bosses. Having a foot in the door is one thing, but getting to sit at the table to make decisions is another.

Patty Herman, secretary in the press office in President Eisenhower’s administration, recalls what it meant to be a woman at work. 

“Even if a young man came in, we were subservient, and that’s about it,” she said in the video.

Dana Perino, White House press secretary for George W. Bush, spoke on Bush’s attempts to better the situation.

“You didn’t have to look deep, there were senior women all across, and that was because of President Bush’s belief that he needed to have diversity in the White House,” Perino said.

Conditions have certainly changed. During President Obama‘s first term, the majority of his top aides were men. Women felt they were continuously ignored during meetings, according to the Washington Post. Female staffers soon adopted a strategy to use during meetings. They called it “amplification.” When a woman made a point, other women repeated it, forcing men to recognize the contributor was female. 

Today, Obama’s closest aides are evenly divided between men and women. According to the Post, half of all White House departments are led by women.

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009, which makes it easier for Americans to fight inequality by extending the window for filing equal-pay lawsuits. 

The White House also encourages companies across the U.S. to pledge to take action for equal pay. Apple, CVS, Facebook, Target, and Visa are among the companies who recently pledged.

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to Obama, left a message for women, via the video.

“You have this extraordinary opportunity to work in the White House,” she said. “Make the best out of it, and don’t let anybody get in your way.”

H/T Washington Post

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*First Published: Sep 15, 2016, 9:30 am CDT