Growing up, my family constantly emphasized the importance of holidays. Be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or even Groundhog Day, any day that wasn’t a typical day of the week was a time for celebration, community, and reflection. This month’s upcoming Equal Pay Day isn’t a cause for celebration, but it is an opportunity for community and reflection. In 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) created Equal Pay Day as a way to raise public awareness about the gender pay gap between male and female workers. Each year, the date serves as a symbolic reminder about how far into the current year women would have to work in order to earn the same amount of money that men made in the previous year.
In 2018, Equal Pay Day falls on April 10—meaning that on average, women would have to work three-and-a-half months more than their male counterparts in order to achieve equal pay. When broken down in monetary terms including race, for every dollar that a white man earns, an Asian woman earns $0.93, a white woman earns $0.82, a black woman earns $0.67, and a Hispanic woman earns $0.62. Such wage disparities broadcast a shameful display to the rest of the world. While the United States may frame itself as a land of equality, it’s hard to support such an argument when we can’t even sufficiently reward equal work with equal pay across gender and race. It’s often said that if you want to learn a person’s priorities, the best way to do so is by examining how and where they spend their money. Who or what do they consider important? And when presented with a scarcity of resources, who or what do they prioritize? Well, based on these statistics, it’s easy to see where much of our country’s priorities lie.
“And while I believe that people are more than just a bank account, men signal to us time and time again that they consider us second-class workers, second-class citizens, and second-class individuals with every instance that they hand us second-class paychecks.”
Money cares little about man-made social constructions such as gender and race. Regardless of who’s buying and who’s selling, a dollar is a dollar. Yet, while the American dollar has no prejudice, it’s obvious that American society does. In a currency-based economy, value is ascribed to people, places, and products based on the amount of money individuals are willing to pay others for goods and services. And while I believe that people are more than just a bank account, men signal to us time and time again that they consider us second-class workers, second-class citizens, and second-class individuals with every instance that they hand us second-class paychecks. It’s disgusting and degrading to receive less money than our male counterparts when we provide work that’s equivalent to or—in many cases—better than them on a regular basis. We know our worth. We are driven, intelligent, and talented women, ready to succeed in our careers. We know the obstacles that we face in the workplace, but we also know what we must do to overcome these obstacles because it’s the same thing that we must always do whenever faced with injustice—we must speak up.
Far too often, productive conversation surrounding the gender pay gap is inhibited by an ingrained sense of etiquette that tells us that such discussions about money are somehow improper. Politics, money, and religion—these are the three topics that we’re instructed to avoid talking about from a young age in order to carry “polite conversation.” But polite conversation doesn’t always correlate with productive conversation. Being civil and being candid aren’t mutually exclusive. The time has come for us to put aside conversational taboos surrounding “polite conversation” about money in the name of progress. And the conversation starts with us.
It starts in the earliest stages of our careers, when we first receive information about what we’re going to be compensated and we make the decision to negotiate our salaries. It starts in the confidence of male allies in the breakroom, when we bring up concerns about the gender pay gap and ask them if we can compare our salaries with one another, working to create an environment that’s pay transparent. It starts in talking to our bosses after receiving tangible evidence about pay inequalities in our workplace and asking for a pay raise. It starts in sharing our stories with elected officials on the phone, in letters, at town halls, on the campaign trail, in their offices, and if they refuse to listen—on the streets and at the polls. It starts when we begin to advocate on behalf of not only ourselves, but our sisters who are in positions where they do not have the flexibility or freedom within their jobs to do all of the actions that I’ve listed above. It starts when we accurately perceive the value of our contributions and demand that this value be reflected in our paychecks.