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Lucy Helm, Starbucks executive vice president and chief partner officer, announced the company’s elimination of the pay gap on stage at the company’s annual shareholders meeting. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The pay gap between men and women doing similar work has been a persistent issue in the U.S. for decades.

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Wednesday, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it has closed that gap for its employees, declaring that it has achieved 100 percent pay equity among all genders and minority groups for its U.S. workforce.

More than 3,500 people roared in approval after Lucy Helm, executive vice president and chief partner officer, made the announcement on stage at the company’s shareholders meeting in Seattle.

Starbucks also pledged to eliminate the pay gap for all of its employees, a big goal given the company’s global workforce of more than 238,000.

Starbucks employees offer coffee to attendees at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Seattle on Wednesday. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

In the U.S., the average pay gap between women and men doing the same or similar work is about 20 percent. That means the average woman makes 80 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job. The gap for women of color is even larger.

A recent study of Seattle’s economy, where Starbucks is headquartered, found the pay gap was, on average, 22 percent. But among highly educated workers, the gap was much larger — 34 percent. That means women with graduate degrees earn 66 cents for every dollar that men with a graduate degree make.

Starbucks also announced Wednesday that it will formulate and share pay equity principals that helped it close the gender pay gap, hoping to help other companies follow suit.

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