If women earn less than men do, how about paying less too?


Chelsea Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg attend a "Lean In" event in New York. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

If the average woman makes 77 percent of what a man makes for equal work, maybe she should only pay 77 percent for the purchases she makes as well.

That's the idea, at least, behind a six-week campaign spearheaded by Lean In DC, the local chapter of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In movement. The group convinced about a dozen local businesses to offer 23 percent discounts to customers on Tuesday, which is Equal Pay Day, as a way of raising awareness of the gender pay gap and highlighting the differences that can exist between men's and women's paychecks.

Equal Pay Day marks the symbolic point in the year when women's earnings catch up with their male peers' — that is, a woman would have to work from January 1, 2013 until April 8, 2014 to make what a man made in 2013 alone. Tied to Equal Pay Day, President Obama is issuing executive orders related to the wage gap. And a vote in the Senate on the Paycheck Fairness Act is expected this week.

"Hearing those same old numbers every year is bound to cause some fatigue," says Madeline Meth, 24, the Lean In group's founder and president, whose day job is in media relations at the Center for American Progress. "That was the idea behind trying to do something different to raise awareness."

Local D.C. businesses such as Boundary Road, Pizzeria Paradiso, Bar Method DC and Uber — in addition to nine others — agreed to offer the discount, though some are only doing so during certain hours, for certain items or via online-only deals. And in an interesting twist, the discount will be offered to both women and men. "It helps to underscore that 23 percent really makes a difference," Meth says. "In the end, equal pay is not just a women's issue. It's a family issue and an economic issue, too."

The idea originated from Meth and her seven-member board, who are mostly twenty-something young women trying to advance their careers by following Sandberg's manifesto. Their group, an umbrella organization for D.C.-area Lean In "circles," hosts monthly  discussions, trainings and networking opportunities. Six weeks ago, they shared their idea with the national organization, which put them in contact with a few other local groups around the country. As a result, a handful of businesses in San Francisco and New Haven, Conn. will also be offering Equal Pay Day deals.

In addition to raising awareness about the gender pay gap, Meth said the campaign gave her and her young team the chance to practice their negotiating skills and get more comfortable with making requests from businesses and political leaders. For instance, after seeing a segment on the Today Show about Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and her congressional roommates, they decided to ask the congresswoman if she'd be willing to stop by the happy hour they coordinated for Tuesday evening at the Capitol Hill location of Hank's Oyster Bar.

She agreed. "It was one of these reminders that if you don't make the ask, there's no fairy godmother who's going to grant these wishes," Meth says. "But when you do, oftentimes they say yes."

The gender pay gap in Washington D.C. is actually narrower than in any state in the country. Women here make 90 percent of what men make, according to the American Association of University Women. So did Meth and her team consider making the discount 10 percent instead of 23 percent, perhaps getting even more businesses to sign on? No. "We wanted to raise awareness outside of DC," says Meth, who hopes the campaign will eventually spread across the country. "We wanted this to be a larger story."

Read also:

Tired of Lean In debates? We shouldn't be

Let's give Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer a break

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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