Equal Pay Day 2016: What are you worth?

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It sounds like a movie plot.

Someone leaves an anonymous note in your locker informing you that you are being paid less than your male counterparts.

Enough is enough, you bolster your spirits with thoughts of Susan B. Anthony, Betty Freidan and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. An inspiring orchestra score starts to swell as you march up the steps of the small Alabama town’s attorney’s office to file a discrimination lawsuit. The score crescendos with excitement as your case is taken all the way to the Supreme Court, and plummets into minor cords as it’s defeated by a five to four margin. It reaches a climatic forte when the President of the United States signs his first bill as commander- in-chief with your name in the title.

This is the story of Lilly Ledbetter who sued Goodyear Tires in 1998, took her pay discrimination case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2007, and successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which was signed into law by President Barack Obama nine days after he took the oath of office.

Not every woman’s equal pay story is dramatic or played out on such a grand scale, but many women have similar stories about how gender discrimination has affected their lives.

Today is Equal Pay Day. It marks the day when women catch up with men in earnings for the year. It takes an extra 103 days for women to earn the same as men. I’ll repeat that. 103. It only took Nellie Bly 72 days to travel around the world in 1889, but if paid today it would take her an extra 31 days to get paid accordingly.

On average, women make only 79 percent of what men are paid. There are many factors that go into determining the exact nature of the pay gap, including age, location, and ethnicity. And the problem is too complicated for me to explain in this blog post, but I encourage you to check out AAUW’s The Simple Truth Report 2016 for more information.

When confronted with the fact of the pay gap exists, many claim that women choose to make less than men either through circumstance such as motherhood or choosing careers that have less earning potential.  But this is simply untrue. No woman chooses to make less than men.

My equal pay moment would not make for a good movie. But despite its lack of theatrical appeal, it was still a dramatic moment in my life when I learned that I was being paid less than my male counterparts.

While working at a local coffee shop I stumbled upon payroll records and discovered that my male co-workers were being paid more per hour than me and my female workers. None of these male coworkers had worked longer than I, and I was even tasked with more responsibility than some. I was shocked. When we confronted our manager about the disparity, he was shocked as well. He had no idea that such a gap existed.

The reason for the disparity was simple, my male co-workers had asked for a raise and received it without question. My manger’s intent was never to discriminate against his female employees and he quickly corrected his oversight.

The incident made me wonder. How had my manger failed to see his unconscious bias? Why hadn’t I asked for a raise? What did my male co-workers see in the value of their work that I didn’t see in mine?

It wasn’t my choice to make less than men. But by not being proactive and advocating for myself like the Lilly Ledbetter’s of the world I had nonetheless received less pay for equal work.

It’s important to note that before the credits can roll in the Lilly Ledbetter movie, epilogue notes will state that while Lilly and her advocates did much to change the face of equal pay for women, the gap still persists. Whether it’s the woman who is forced to take unpaid time off to care for her sick child, or a woman unable to enter traditionally male fields and increase her earning potential, or a member of the Women’s World Cup Championship Team who is paid less for winning games than here male counterparts does for loosing.

Or me, simply not asking to be paid what I am worth.

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