I am not worth less.
Recently, MomsRising sent an email out about the issue of Equal Pay in the workplace and I responded with my experience. To my surprise, I was contacted a couple weeks ago with a request for more information, which led to the biggest surprise and honor of all. I was asked by the National Women’s Law Center to come testify before the House Democratic Steering Committee about my experience with unfair and inequitable pay.
To be honest, I was a bit nervous at first. I had fears that I might experience the hateful backlash that Sandra Fluke did when she testified about contraception and I had to ask myself if I could take it. Also, I have never been away from my 3 year old daughter, Gracie. When I thought about what I would say to her, it became clear to me that testifying was not only important but the right thing to do. I was given a voice to speak up for the millions of women who face this pay discrimination and I was going to use that voice. I had an opportunity to do my part to make the world a better place for both of us and I was going to do it. I’d like to share my story with you as well.
My work environment is not the sort of place you’d assume unfair pay practices would occur. I work at a progressive public university that prides itself on its commitment to diversity. I am the Associate Director of an inventive and forward thinking Disability Services office. In fact, I love my job. I am continuously learning and growing and I get to work collaboratively with colleagues I greatly respect. However, even in an environment like this wage discrimination based upon gender still existed.
In fact, I am good friends with the male co-worker who was paid more than I was. This isn’t a story about him, or anyone else but me. However it is an all too common story for women nationwide, who are denied equal pay for equal work.
I began working at my job in 2004. I was hired as a member of a team of Consumer Managers. From the moment I was hired, I made less than a male co-worker doing the same job. This was the case even though our resumes were nearly identical. We both have Master’s Degrees in Education and comparable professional experience. We even graduated from college in the same year.
When I became aware of this wage disparity, I asked my employer if I could be paid more. The answer was no. I was told that because my male co-worker had accepted a pay cut to take this job, he should be paid more. It didn’t seem to matter that I had also taken a pay cut to accept my job.
After 5 years, my male co-worker and I were promoted at the same time. Since 2009, we both have held the position of Associate Director. While I do love my work, it hurt to know that my efforts were worth less than his. I was initially hopeful at the time of the promotion that my employer would finally acknowledge my work and make my pay equitable. Instead, I learned later that the wage gap had increased.
Last summer, my husband’s teaching job was threatened due to budget cuts. This situation made me think about what those lost wages were costing my family. I added those wages up and calculated that my family had lost over $12,000 in income. This represented a full year of child care, something that we struggle to pay for.
So, I approached my employer again, this time with a visual chart that showed the stark salary difference between me and my co-worker. I repeated my case that I should be paid fairly. This time, my employer agreed to raise my salary to equal my male co-workers. Just this month, I received a paycheck that finally reflects equal pay.
Fortunately for me, my story ends well. But it took more than 7 years of difficult conversations to finally get equal pay for equal work. I know that not every worker has a workplace where these conversations can even happen.
As a public employee in the state of Massachusetts, I confirmed that I was being paid less through published reports. But I’ve learned from the National Women’s Law Center that 1/4th of private sector employees are prohibited from discussing salary information or where workers can be punished for simply discussing their salaries.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would fix this problem. It would allow workers to talk about their salaries to their co-workers and employers without worrying about being fired. These conversations could prompt an employer to address and resolve the problem. No worker should have to wait 7 years to get fairness in the workplace, especially in these tough economic times.
My situation has been resolved, but there are millions of women workers around the country who are still paid less than their male co-workers for the same work. Congress needs to act now and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Passing this bill would encourage responsible employers to do the right thing and ensure that men and women performing the same work make the same salary.
My experience testifying was fantastic. It turns out that I need not have worried. I was greatly supported by my staff at work, the National Women’s Law Center, and other organizations that recognize the importance of the Paycheck Fairness Act (National Partnership for Women & Families, National Association of University Women, ACLU, etc.). But most of all, I left feeling proud of myself and encouraged that sharing my story may have helped to shed light on the importance of equal pay for equal work.
I hope that by the time Gracie is able to understand this issue, it will have long since been resolved. Studies show that without Paycheck Fairness, the pay gap will continue until she is 48 years old. I hope the fact that Mommy was paid less than a man working at the same job will sound like ancient times to her. I want it to blow her mind, like the fact that Mommy did not have email until her senior year of college. I know I stand on the shoulders of so many women before me who worked diligently so that I can do the work I do today. I do not want my daughter to ever be in the position I have been in. To teach a young woman that she is worth less is to make her feel worthless… and that is unconscionable.