“Women aren’t as reliable as men,” heard one respondent, who reported the exchange in our pre-Equal Pay Day event survey at Napa Valley College’s Performing Arts Center on April 4th. She was stunned to hear those words during an interview with a male hiring manager. You can imagine her subtext: “Why the heck is he even interviewing me if he’s made his mind up negatively about female employees???” She didn’t get the job and planned to refuse it if it had been offered.

As a prelude to last month’s celebration of Women’s Equal Pay Day on April 4th, 36 women responded to the survey question, “Have you ever faced wage or job discrimination based on your gender?”  Happily, 42 percent of respondents indicated they’d not faced discrimination. Curiously, while only 11 percent indicated they’d answered, “Yes,” they’d faced discrimination, 17 of the 36 respondents described their extensive experiences with discrimination.Success label and Key

Our voluntary survey was conducted ahead of the event to provide discussion points for panelists Cathy Corison and Linda Higueras, along with moderator Geni Whitehouse. To protect the privacy of the survey participants, their responses are only paraphrased in this article. It doesn’t take much imagination, however, to put yourself in these women’s shoes (unfortunately).

In our survey, not to dwell on the negative (but to get it out of the way quickly), the types of discrimination reported by women included:

  • Not being interviewed or offered a position because she was told the company wanted a male in the position
  • Being paid less than a male counterpart in the same or similar position, regardless of whether she had more experience, more education or performed more duties than a male counterpart, often being told it was necessary because the male had earned more at his previous job
  • Being passed over for year-end bonuses, raises, bigger titles or promotions, for a male counterpart and being told the male needed it because he was “supporting a family,” regardless of whether or not the woman was also supporting a family
  • Being told that women employees in the company would not be promoted above X level as the owners didn’t want women in senior positions
  • Being lied to and finding out later that male counterparts had received the bonus/promotion/raise, etc. that the woman had been told would not be given to anyone regardless of gender
  • Being laid off instead of a male counterpart in the same/similar position and hearing that he’s “more loyal” to the company, all the while knowing the boss has said the counterpart has not performed nearly as well as she has or actually demonstrated loyalty
  • Being let go as soon as she informs management of her pregnancy

The list of stories went on and on. But as we said (in so many words), “What’s reported in our survey stays in our survey.” What’s not in our survey are solutions to the discrimination and pay equity gap reported by women in the wine business.


We know from the current political climate that various forms of discrimination aren’t going away overnight or even in the immediate future. On the other hand, both women and men can take actions to reduce the disparities and help move Equal Pay Day closer to December 31st, closing the pay gap step by step. With this article, we’ll begin a series on advice, skills and actions to reduce discrimination and pay disparity for women working in the wine industry.

Pay Transparency

The first step in closing the gender pay gap is providing greater transparency in reporting pay for women and men. Traditionally, both genders have been discouraged from asking or sharing information about pay. (It is even illegal to do so in some places.) But this lack of transparency fosters inequity and encourages the continuation of pay disparity. Iceland may become the first country requiring employers to prove that they enforce equal pay laws. Legislative changes are generally the slowest method to change behavior and beliefs in society, but it is also often the last step in a lengthy societal process. The AAUW has provided a road map to fight for pay equity in California. You may wish to download a copy from our website for reference and make recommendations to your employers from it.

Get Educated

If you’re not certain your employer is following state and federal laws regarding pay discrimination , it doesn’t hurt to ask what policies and procedures they have in place addressing these issues. Much may be outlined in employee handbooks and/or an employment agreement upon being hired.

Awareness of pay inequality in the United States dates back many decades.

In 1963, the federal Equal Pay Act was signed into law by then President John F. Kennedy. The goal of the Equal Pay Act was to abolish wage disparity based on sex in the United States.

Fast forward to 2016 when California enacted the California Fair Pay Act, which revised and expanded the California Equal Pay Act of 1949 (Yes! 1949!). As is probably not surprising to many, the California Fair Pay Act provides greater protection than federal law. A few of the ways this new Act strengthens the California Equal Pay Act include:

  • Requires equal pay for employees who perform “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.”
  • Eliminates the requirement that the employees being compared work at the “same establishment.”
  • Makes it more difficult for employers to satisfy the “bona fide factor other than sex” defense.
  • Ensures that any legitimate factors relied upon by the employer are applied reasonably and account for the entire pay difference.
  • Explicitly states that retaliation against employees who seek to enforce the law is illegal, and makes it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing or inquiring about their co-workers’ wages.
  • Extends the number of years that employers must maintain wage and other employment-related records from two years to three years.


The California Fair Pay Act also addresses “pay secrecy,” which is found to contribute to the gender wage gap “because women cannot challenge wage discrimination that they do not know exists.” The amendments that went into effect January 1, 2017, specify that prior salary cannot, by itself, justify pay disparity. This is designed to help ensure compensation negotiations are based on the requirements, expectations, and qualifications of the person in the job rather than on an individual’s prior earnings. Employers may not use an individual’s past salary as the sole factor to determine compensation.

In sum and relevant to our point, the California Fair Pay Act prohibits employers from paying their female employees less than their male counterparts for “substantially similar work.” The burden is on the employer to justify pay differentials from an acceptable list of factors that must be applied reasonably.

Other laws on this topic:

  • State Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
  • Federal Equal Pay Act (part of the Fair Labor Standards (FLSA) Act)
  • Federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009
  • Title VII

While not every employer is required to follow various local, state and federal regulations due to company size, type, number of employees, etc., you can take it upon yourself to learn which regulations affect you and your employer to be proactive. In many of the small, family-owned wineries and wine-related businesses employees wear multiple hats, making it difficult to stay on top of new legislation and regulations affecting employees. Presenting your knowledge in a positive and helpful manner can help keep the ball rolling in the right direction.

Celebrating Equal Pay Day on April 4th was but the first step (of thousands) in closing the pay gap. Guest speakers Cathy Corison and Linda Higueras both offered numerous anecdotes and suggestions for handling discrimination and pay inequity issues.

WINE WOMEN’s mission is “to champion the advancement of women’s careers in the wine industry by building strong relationships, essential business skills and leadership among members,” which will lead to a reduction in discriminatory practices and inequity over time. Our forums offer environments for women and men to grow their networks, learn new skill sets and gain training.

Stay tuned for our next article: Tips on Negotiating Pay.


This article is by Karen Alary, Board Secretary and Co-Owner of Personnel Perspective, along with Marcia Macomber, Marketing Director and Creator-in-Chief at Cornucopia Creations.

As follow up to our event, take the WINE WOMEN Compensation Survey! The Gender Pay Gap is projected not to close in the U.S. for at least another two to five generations. WINE WOMEN aims to help reduce the gap through its women-focused events, career training, and exposure of pay disparity practices which hinder women from asking for and receiving fair compensation in the workplace.