Start Talking With Each Other About The Money

I’ve had numerous opportunities to point out the fact that, as a woman, I count. I count the number of women’s names on your letterhead, on your board, on your committee, on your staff list. I look to see how many faces look like mine, and how many look like my sisters’ faces.

I’m counting every dollar you pay me, too, and I won’t stand for getting short-changed. Today, April 20th, is Equal Pay Day, the day in 2010 when the average woman’s wages catch up to the average man’s 2009 wages. I have got to say—three and a half months to catch up just isn’t right.

Preparing to blog on equal pay day, I read dozens of study abstracts, academic papers, government-commissioned reports, heavily-cited articles, and, of course, blog commentary on all of the above.

Having done so, I feel comfortable saying that a pay gap exists, and that the gap cannot be explained by anything other than gender discrimination.

Sure, that gap narrows and widens when factors like age, educational attainment, and employment experience are factored in, but pretty much across the board, if you look at the big picture, you will find overwhelming support for the conclusion that women are making less money than men.

I’d like to stop talking about why the gap exists, and start talking about how to close it. If you don’t believe it exists, you can stop reading now, go pick up a copy of Morris the Moose, and ponder the issues it raises.

Still reading? Good. Here are some action steps:

1) Ask your senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

This is easy. Click on the link, read a bit about the bill, and fill out the form. If you want to make it less easy, but possibly more effective, whip out your heavy bond stationery and hand-write (legibly!) a long letter to your senators asking them to support the act. Our legislators are so quaint—many of them still give more weight to actual paper letters than to emails, so heavy stationery makes your voice that much louder.

2) Start talking to the women and men you work with and compare salaries. Then keep talking.

This is harder than writing a letter on 50% cotton bond paper, that’s for sure!

When you compare, you will find variations. Some of those will be based on performance, experience, ability to bring in new business, and other somewhat intangible but understandable factors. That’s reasonable.

What isn’t reasonable is finding patterns across time and throughout an industry that suggest men always benefit from the intangibles, and women always fall short. You’ll never see those patterns unless you are constantly talking, constantly advocating for transparency in salaries.

Law firms are a great example. The women attorneys I know assure me that they do not get the same mentoring, the same access to better cases and clients, the same grooming, that their male peers receive.

When I ask what they are going to do about it, they get nervous. They swear me to secrecy. They say they could never prove it. Several have told me that when they raised the issue, they were basically told that they could never prove it.

But as soon as they raised it, the proof piled on even higher. Fewer new matters. Snubs from former mentors. Counseling out of the firm. By the time it came to that for the women I know, they were only too glad to go, relieved to escape a workplace where they were treated badly and undervalued.

What if they had all talked to each other? What if they had stayed at their firms, befriended the new women joining the firm each year, persuaded sympathetic men to join in the conversation, and continued to advocate, ask questions, and poke the bear? I bet the gap would be closing for them.

3) Talk about the money.

OK, this is basically a continuation of #2, but I wanted to break up the flow a bit and re-capture your attention.

Get comfortable talking about money. If we can talk about vajazzling, we can talk about how much we are getting paid. (Although must we talk about vajazzling?)

Once we know how much we’re being paid, we can begin to compile the data. And any lawyer can tell you that when the facts are on your side, the negotiation becomes much easier.

Many people are uncomfortable talking about how much they make. They may feel ashamed that they settled for so little, or worried that someone will take it back. I’ve had people in HR ask me not to talk about what I”m making, which always makes me assume that HR knows that someone, probably me, is getting screwed.

But much like any other issue you are embarrassed or ashamed to bring up, you’ll find, once you do bring it up, that others are willing to talk. And, usually, something you thought was your own problem reveals itself to be a systemic one. Like women getting paid, on average, over $10,600 less a year for the same work that men do.

Which, frankly, blows.

I’m off to raise a glass and toast the possibility that Equal Pay Day 2011 will fall on December 31, 2010.

This entry was posted in feminists & feminism, time for action and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Start Talking With Each Other About The Money

  1. Brittanie says:

    Thanks for this knowledge. I’m glad to celebrate something on this date instead of that other holiday.

  2. elizabeth says:

    Great point – being shy about salaries basically makes it unnecessary to make it illegal to ask people what they’re making, because nobody dares ask even if it is legal! Too afraid that if they find they make less it will show they’re worth less? Or that if they displease the boss, they’ll be punished? Something emperor’s new clothes-y going on.

    I would invite you to read my E-D day post (on the effect of the recession on women’s wages), but the weight of all that analysis seems to have crashed the site. Maybe it will revive tomorrow. 😀

    • nonsequiteuse says:

      I tried to comment, but the site still isn’t taking them. I’ll keep trying. I read an interesting take on the issue you raised … will save it for the comment!

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