The damage done by the thousands of dollars I lost to the gender pay gap sticks with me today, despite leaving that employer long ago. My retirement fund isn’t as robust, and I took out more in graduate student loans than I would have if I’d been paid fairly. I’ve been shortchanged by the gender pay gap — and I’m far from alone.
I know this from statistics — the pay gap costs a typical woman at least $400,000 over the course of her career — and because of women who bravely share their stories of unfair pay in hopes of creating change ahead. Here are seven of these women’s stories.
The Design Supervisor Who Made Less than the Employees She Managed
Kerri Sleeman worked for five years at a company that designed, built, and installed laser welding assembly systems. When she was hired, Sleeman said company officials told her they didn’t negotiate pay. In 2003, the company was forced into bankruptcy and employees had to go through bankruptcy court for their final paychecks. When Sleeman looked at the court’s list of claims, she was heartbroken. People she had supervised had larger claims for two weeks of pay than she did.
The Engineer Who Lost More than $1 Million in Earnings
Cheryl Hughes was a divorced mother of two when she began to pursue an engineering degree in 1982. She dealt with an overwhelming male majority in the field and found a balance between motherhood and being a student, but she couldn’t overcome pay inequity. Hughes said she lost more than $1 million in earnings throughout her career as an engineer because she is an African American woman.
The Educator Whose Pay Was Determined by Both Her Gender and Marital Status
When Maxine Lampe started her career as a teacher in the early 1970s, the school district refused to give her the head-of-household pay that men received — even though Lampe was the sole earner while her husband was in graduate school. Later, Lampe went into public school administration and found once again that her gender — and marital status — was a factor in her pay. While trying to negotiate her salary, one of the board members told her, “You don’t need as much pay because your husband is a professor and you have enough money.”
The Future Law Student Told to Give Up Her Dream
Reshma Daniel’s parents moved to America from India with just $20. Her parents wanted their children to live the American dream. For Daniel, that means law school. While at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, she majored in legal studies and job shadowed a family lawyer. Following a pretrial hearing, another lawyer, a Vietnamese woman, told Daniel that she should not become a lawyer. “She was like, ‘You won’t get paid. As a woman and of color, you’re going to be underpaid, so there’s really no point,’” Daniel recalled.
The Graduate Student and Former Technician Who Didn’t Realize You Could Negotiate
Anastasia Engebretson accepted the salary offered to her in her first job out of college. She didn’t know she could negotiate. She found when she arrived for work as a technician that a few men with less education and less relevant experience had negotiated for more pay. “I have a bachelor’s degree in physics,” Engebretson said. “This guy who hadn’t gone to college and couldn’t do mental math was getting paid more.”
The Lab Technician Who Stood Up against Pay Discrimination
Ellie Setser and her female colleagues in a research lab at a teaching hospital fought pay discrimination in the late 1970s. The technicians in Setser’s lab were all women with college degrees. They learned that a male head technician without a degree — working in a much smaller lab with less responsibility — earned a salary 1.5 times larger than the female head technician in Setser’s lab. The women banded together and called in anonymous complaints to a U.S. Department of Justice pay discrimination hotline. To their surprise, an investigation — and pay raises — followed.
The Math Consultant Fighting for a Woman’s Worth
Aileen Rizo works as a math consultant at a California county office that supports dozens of school districts. After three years on the job, she said she learned over lunch that a man just hired as a math consultant had started at a much higher salary. After trying unsuccessfully to work out the disparity with human resources, Rizo filed a lawsuit because of her two young daughters. “I don’t want another girl to feel after she’s worked so hard that she’s not worth the same as the man sitting next to her,” Rizo said.
This piece was cross-posting here with permission from AAUW