February 10, 2014 — Recently, tech writer Milo Yiannopoulos wrote a post in which he claimed that "the women in tech experiment has been a disaster." It included a line that I found rather odd: "I do find male women in tech activists deeply mystifying."
While this certainly prompted ire from smart women, I'm not sure anyone has ever called me deeply mystifying before; it almost seems like a compliment, in a James Bond sort of way. I'd love it if my work on gender wage equity gave me some secret agent panache, but it has mostly just earned me a few fun speaking opportunities and contacts with a lot of fine folks who are tackling the same problems. Glibness aside, I am often confronted with people who seem to be a bit confused about why a man would advocate on behalf of women.
Milo has a theory: "Perhaps these buffoons are trying to suck up to women merely to get laid." Plausible, I suppose—people do some pretty incredible things to attract potential mates. But I can tell you with a fairly high degree of confidence that my years of work on gender wage equity have never gotten me laid. And I'm fairly sure that if my goal was sex instead of fighting sexism, my time would be better spent at the gym.
The most common theory I encounter is equally incorrect: "Your mom must be really awesome." Freudians, I hate to disappoint, but I don't care about gender wage equity because of my mother. Not that my mom isn't spectacular; she's a deeply awesome woman who got her college degree right about the same time I did and, along with my father, has worked full time my entire life. But she isn't the reason for my interest in gender wage equity. And if you think about it, that really shouldn't be surprising: saying that my mother is why I should care about gender wage equity is like saying that you should only care about racism if you have some black friends.
It also isn't about girlfriends, or girl friends, or as-yet-unborn daughters. Yes, if I have a daughter, I'd like her to grow up in a world where she can ask for a raise and get it, without being told that she is being too demanding or that her work is worth less. Yes, I would like all of the women I know to be valued for their skills and promoted to management positions when it is appropriate.
But the reason to care about gender wage inequity, and the rights of women in the workplace more generally, is more simple and basic than that: inequity is wrong. Whether a result of racism or sexism or any other sort of bias, the issue isn't that you know people affected by the problem (although in the case of gender wage equity, you certainly do), it is the inequity itself.
There are a great many terrible things in the world: poverty and war and famine and all manner of other troubles. And I'm not in the business of comparing which ones are worth working on; eventually, we'll have to tackle them all. But the thing about gender inequity in the workplace is that it is an imminently addressable issue. My ability to directly impact the plight of starving children pales in comparison to the ease with which I can mentor female colleagues. And the lesson of tools and websites like GetRaised, which I created along with some other really great folks, the EEOC’s equal pay fact sheet, and the National Women’s Law Center’s equal pay info sheet, is that we already have all the data we need to determine when and where women are being systematically underpaid—and to do something about it.
And I think that's the important challenge we have to issue to ourselves: to stop digging into the mystique of motivations and scrutinizing advocates, and instead turn the focus on ourselves. How can I, personally, do more to end something that I know to be wrong? Because it isn't that the problem doesn't exist; the numbers speak for themselves. And few would seriously debate that women are capable of outstanding work that meets and exceeds that of their male counterparts. So if you accept that the problem exists, and that it doesn't have to exist, then the question isn't, “Why are other men working on this problem?” The question is, “Why aren't you?”