Feminism | Posted by Dana B on 09/10/2012
The Wage Gap: It’s Personal
I remember looking at the male intern sitting beside me and being angry.
It was May 30, 2012, the second day of my summer internship. I was at the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act. A woman was testifying to members of Congress about how she was continually paid thousands of dollars less than her male coworker.
Let me remind you: it was May 2012. Not 1960.
The woman testifying was AnnMarie Duchon. She said, “I have a daughter and when she grows up and looks back at how Mommy didn’t have fair pay, I want her to think it was some historical event that was eradicated years ago.”
I looked at the male intern sitting next to me and wondered how it could be that the wage gap had not been “eradicated.”
I wondered how it could be that when we graduate from college, chances are he will be paid more than me, even if we do the same job—just because he is a man.
I wondered how in 2012 stories like AnnMarie’s could still be commonplace.
And these realizations made me angry.
Three months later, I’m still angry. AnnMarie’s story has stuck with me all summer and I want to share it with you now.
AnnMarie, in her own words:
“I began working for the Disability Services office at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2004. I truly love my work, and I feel fortunate to work with colleagues whom I greatly respect. Every day I oversee programs designed to assist people with disabilities gain full access to the university environment.
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 coworker doing the same job. This was the case even though our resumes were nearly identical. We both have Master’s Degrees and comparable professional experience. We even graduated from the same 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 coworker 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 coworker and I were promoted at the same time. Since 2009, we both have held the position of Associate Director. And although 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 equalize my pay. But 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 lost 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 my coworker and me. I repeated my case that I should be paid fairly. This time, my employer agreed to raise my salary to equal my male coworker’s. And just this month I received a paycheck that finally reflects equal pay.
Fortunately for me, my story ends well. But it took more than seven 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 one-fourth of private sector employees are in workplaces with formal policies that prohibit 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 coworkers 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 seven 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 still are 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.”
Originally posted on the National Women’s Law Center blog
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