(CNSNews.com) - Under new rules issued by President Obama on Tuesday, federal contractors may not retaliate against employees who tell co-workers how much money they make; and those federal contractors must now send the Labor Department wage information broken down by their employees' race and gender.
"And so all the president wants to do is make sure we have transparency," Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday.
"Employers also should welcome these new tools that they'll have available so they can avoid lawsuits, because they'll have the statistics to be able to correct pay discrepancies before it ever gets to litigation," Jarrett said.
"With this new transparency, we can have an honest conversation. So many times women have no idea that they're being discriminated against. They have no idea what their counterparts are making."
Jarrett said employers themselves may not know they're discriminating:
"They haven't analyzed the statistics to know that women are being paid less than men. And so since we have this wage gap, let's have our conversation and let's figure out how to close it.
"There is a responsible role for government here," she continued. "Even though it is against the law to discriminate based on gender, it happens all the time. And so government's role is to provide those women who are being discriminated against the tools that they need to make sure that they get equal pay."
Jarrett asked: "Why wouldn't we give women -- hard-working women in America -- that tool that they need to make sure that they're getting equal pay and so they have the facts to defend themselves. And if they're armed with those facts, then that's when the conversation really begins. Employers also should welcome these new tools that they'll have available so they can avoid lawsuits because they'll have the statistics to be able to correct pay discrepancies before it ever gets to litigation."
The White House on Tuesday was hosting a "roundtable conversation" on pay equity.
And pay equity is only part of the equation: Women "need workplace flexibility" to thrive in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, where -- as Jarrett noted -- the pay scales are higher.
"We need to make sure we have reliable day care in order for women to be able to stay in the workforce," she said.
The new rules issued by President Obama on Tuesday apply only to federal contractors. The president is also pressing Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would bar all employers from retaliating against workers who share their salary information.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave employees more time to file pay discrimination lawsuits.
But it has taken him five years to return to the topic -- in an election year that some have called challenging for Democrats.