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April 20, 2010Happy Equal Pay Day—today you’ve just earned as much as a man!

April 20th marks how far into 2010 women must work from January 1st 2009 to match what men earned last year. Women in the United States make about 77 cents to every dollar made by a man. The gap is worse in other other countries. Women work just as hard, but are paid less. Does this seem fair to you?

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal for employers in the U.S. to pay women and men different wages for doing the same type of work. But the pay gap still cuts deep.

Professionals are hit the hardest. The latest data show that female physicians in the United States earn, on average, 39% less than male physicians. Women financial analysts take in 35% less, and female chief executives one-quarter less.

Men earn more in “traditional” female jobs, too. Female beauticians earn 30% less than male colleagues, women cashiers 19% less, and female waiters 21% less. Any way you slice it, men make more money.

Twenty-three cents might not sound like a lot until you do the math. The small nicks to a woman’s paycheck add up to astonishing amounts. A woman who graduates high school will earn roughly $700,000 less than her male classmates over the course of her life. A female college graduate will earn $1.2 million less.

And how’s this for a graduation present? Women who earn an MBA, an M.D. or a law degree fare even worse. They will make $2 million less during their lifetime than the men in their graduating class.

Inequities start from day one. Catalyst found that female MBAs earn, on average, $4,600 less in their first job out of business school. Women start behind and never catch up.

On March 11, 2010, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension held a hearing on the pay gap. Among the proposals offered was a legislation that would require employers to publicly disclose job categories and pay scale. This is vital to destroying the pay gap and would provide needed transparency so that companies can fix the current inequities.

Just ask Lilly Ledbetter. She earned $3,727 per month at an Alabama Goodyear plant. When an anonymous note informed her that the lowest paid man doing the same job earned $4,286—and the highest paid man earned $5,236—she sued. In his first legislative act as president, Barack Obama signed a law that closed the legal loophole that cost Ledbetter the case. And he named the bill after her.

For Lilly, the pay gap is not simply a woman’s issue— it’s a family issue. “If your wife doesn’t get paid fairly, it affects you. If you’ve got children, it affects them,” she said in an interview last year.

Here’s how I see it. Being paid 23% less means there’s 23% less going into the system—into women’s retirement plans and Social Security accounts. We keep losing ground even after we stop working. And when women pay taxes on 23% less salary, the whole economy loses out.

Let’s not forget that one definition of “fair pay” is pay that you still think is fair after you find out what everyone else is making! The whole idea that it’s not feminine, ladylike, or polite to care about money is so 20th century. And it was a miserable idea then, too.

So find out what you should earn. Get the data on your industry’s norms. Ask people in your field. If you are earning less, demand more, or consider working somewhere else. Don’t value companies that do not value you.