Yesterday was Equal Pay Day, which is meant to represent the additional length of time women had to work into 2016 to make the amount that men in the same positions earned in 2015. And you know what I, along with all my fellow female coworkers, did to celebrate? We showed up to the office and were underpaid for our incredible work, just as we are every day. A few people were really invested and updated their Facebook pages, but we all walked away that day earning the same unequal paycheck we got last week.
There’s been progress. Women in my parents and grandparents generation had it worse. In 1964, women were, on average, making 59% of what men made in the same role. In 2014, that amount rose to 79%. But that number gets even worse when race is taken into consideration. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research says that, if these same trends continue, women will earn equal pay in 2059. I’m skeptical. I think the journey toward equal pay is kinda like the journey toward weight loss. It takes a big struggle to get started, but, once you do, you can get a whole lot done at the beginning. After a while, progress slows down and, by the end, you just can’t quite shed those last few pounds. Plus, let’s not pretend that no one is benefiting from this inequality—whether it’s the corporate leaders who bring in greater profits by exploiting their female employees or the men who pretend like they aren’t gaining from the privilege.
I hope I’m wrong though. I really, really do.
In my experience, it’s easier to talk about these problems on a grand scale, but much harder to bring up the real, personal details. The women around me know the truth. They walk around the office with the knowledge that the men sitting next to them are making more to do the same thing—or sometimes less. But men and women aren’t sharing our exact salaries and, without that discussion, how are we supposed to make a change? I get it. People are uncomfortable talking about it, because it seems so private and because we’ve been mistakenly taught to wrap our value into the number. Well, I think that vast, overreaching inequality that impacts every part of daily life is even more uncomfortable.
I will say this. As I’ve advanced in my career, the problem has only gotten worse. And this is a trend around the country. The higher the education level of a woman, the less she will make compared to her male counterparts. For me, I started my voyage into the working world with hourly jobs as a teenager, selling snowboards and sitting by the pool. All of us entry level shmucks made the same measly wage. After that, I worked in a series of public service jobs, where my offices were filled with women. Because I was in a female-dominated industry, I was underpaid along with the rest of my colleagues—and vastly underpaid compared to men doing the same job outside of public service. I was meant to be sustained by the knowledge that I was doing good in the world—a message that seems to be sent to only young women. Now I’m working at a corporation with a more equal number of men and women and the wage gaps are large and apparent—right on my own floor. It’s a frustrating reminder that we’ve got a long way to go.
There’s a lot of discussion about how this is a complicated problem, but I think a good first step would be to put everything out on the table. There’s rarely a situation where the truth makes things worse—mostly just when a friend asks you if you like her strange haircut or if your grandma bakes you really terrible cookies. I don’t know who companies are trying to protect by being secretive about it all, though I’m sure it has something to do with those inflated high-level salaries and a desire to not rock the boat. Or a desire to buy a boat. Or a yacht.
What I mean is I wanna buy a boat, but I can’t because I’m a woman. Maybe one day I can buy 79% of a boat. Hopefully they build it from the bottom up, so it will at least float.