Pay is only part of the picture.  Just ask women in the military.

Equal Pay Day is an annual reminder of the uphill battle women continue to climb to get the recognition we deserve in the workplace and the barriers we must break through to have a shot at the opportunities long afforded to men.     

Sure, pay is easy to target, and fairness should be demanded, but it’s only part of the picture. And, I don’t need to point to an academic paper to make my point.  We have a test case right in front of us: the United States military.

The US military pay scale ensures that all service members, regardless of gender, are paid equally based on rank and time in service.  But, it wasn’t until December of 2015 that we allowed women to compete on a level playing field for every job opportunity in the Armed Services, which we also know put a ceiling on their career advancement.  

Today we have startling reminders, like the Marines United photo scandal, that women getting paid equal to their male counterparts doesn’t necessarily equate to a culture that supports them, nor does it mean women get the respect they deserve from their male colleagues.  

As IAVA highlights in our recently launched #SheWhoBorneTheBattle campaign, the cultural issues that women confront are many times a greater barrier to the recognition that drives outcomes like fair compensation.   An utter lack of recognition  leaves women veterans feeling like the public at large doesn’t respect their service, and a culture that’s still more welcoming to “him who shall have borne the battle” keeps those same women from getting the care they need and have earned.

As someone who fought to protect our nation, whose pledge assures “justice for all,” I’m proud that women from Wall Street to Silicon Valley are beating the drum for equal pay today, but I can’t help but wonder if that in some way is a solution that doesn’t get to the core problem.    What environments are we demanding CEOs create that ensure every woman not only has equal pay, but equal opportunity?  What actions are leaders in corporate America taking today to fight misogynistic cultures?

The ability to affect change through command climate is by no means a concept that should be unique to the military or the VA.   Leadership can absolutely set a tone from the top that can be a game changer for women in America, whether it be our Commander in Chief finally speaking out about a culture that must change in our military or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies banding together to holistically tackle this lingering albatross.  But first, we must recognize that problem is much larger than the quantifiable inequity in direct deposits each month.  Women, in military service or civilian life, deserve recognition and respect for their work, as well as an equal paycheck.

Learn more about IAVA’s historic campaign to recognize and provide services for women veterans at


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