April 14, 2015 — Today is Equal Pay Day. The date symbolizes how far into this year women must work to earn what men earned last year. Equal Pay Day was created almost 20 years ago to draw awareness to the ongoing gap between men's and women's wages.
I am speaking today at a rally for stronger laws on the steps of New York City Hall to voice Catalyst’s support for gender equity in pay, on boards, and in senior leadership.
I first started talking about the pay gap as a high school senior and it’s frustrating to see that the gap has narrowed only marginally since that time. Everywhere I go I meet women with stories of “discovering” that they were being paid less than male colleagues for the same job. And every time I raise the issue, I am confronted with those who claim there is no pay gap.
So we decided to go beyond the numbers this year and ask real women to share their stories of pay inequity on our Catalyzing blog. I’ve included just a few of these below; unfortunately, there are more to come.
For these women and thousands like them, the gender pay gap is not a talking point; it’s a real problem that has affected their lives profoundly.
“He has a family to provide for”
I used to work for a small government contractor that mostly filled admin positions at the Pentagon. During my pregnancy in May 2001, my boss pulled me back to headquarters to assist in the hiring process rather than being on contract. My position was Executive Assistant. I scheduled interviews, reviewed resumes, and followed up with potential candidates.
One day a woman got promoted. We started the search for her replacement (someone to sit at the same desk and perform the same functions). The company hired a man to replace her and when I reviewed his contract, I realized we were paying him more. I asked why and the HR manager said, “He is a man who has a family to provide for. Women just choose to work.”
In fact, neither the man nor the woman in question had children. They also had the same educational credentials and similar levels of experience—but the man was hired as an Information Specialist rather than an Executive Assistant. It made his job sound more important and helped justify a pay raise, even though his responsibilities were exactly the same as his female predecessor’s.
—Becca, Writer, Rochester, NY
Decades of lost wages
In 2007 a small group of other women professors and I discovered we were being paid 50% less than our male colleagues.
We consulted a lawyer who specializes in labor law and has handled many an academic case. She said the gap was one of the largest she'd ever heard of, but advised us not to sue because we wouldn't stand a chance against an institution with such deep pockets.
She gave us copies of the state and federal statutes we needed to have a frank conversation with our dean. The (male) dean was appalled by the discrepancy and agreed to try to close the gap, but his office claimed that the highest salaries in our department were much higher than the high salaries in other departments of our school at the university. The dean and assistant dean were therefore reluctant to enlarge the ranks of the overpaid. We knew these deans well and took them at their word, accepting in lieu of equal pay a 25% raise, parceled out at 8.3% a year over three years.
We received these raises, but the inequity still rankled—not so much because we knew certain colleagues were overpaid, but because of all the money we knew we’d lost in the years before we discovered the gap.
How did we discover this gap? The disparity really bothered one of the higher-paid men, who eventually disclosed it to his female colleagues.
—Mary*, Professor, Large university, East Coast
Stay tuned for more real-life stories from women who’ve experienced pay inequity firsthand; we’ll be sharing them in installments.
How has the pay gap affected you? Please share your experiences in the space below!
*Name changed at the request of the subject