I was 19 years old when I started working for a fundraising consulting firm. We worked on nonprofit campaigns, sending out letters and making calls on behalf of our clients. By the age of 22, I was a lead supervisor — my first management role — and an exciting advancement I’m still proud to have experienced.
One day I was talking with my assistant supervisors, three men, and we were sharing the usual good-natured complaints about how little the work paid.
But one of the men, a White man in his 40s, got very specific about how much he made during that conversation, which is how I found out my assistant supervisors were making more money than I was.
Significantly more. Thirty percent more. All three of them.
The next time my bosses wanted to discuss my performance, I let them know that I needed a raise, and I made it clear that I knew that men who worked underneath me were being paid more. My employer’s first excuse for the wage discrepancy was that they “wanted to wait for my annual review” before my next raise. We scheduled my annual review eight months early.
I pointed out that this wage discrepancy looked especially bad because I was young, Black, and female, while my three coworkers were male, and one was White and much older. They insisted this was just an oversight and they would never intentionally pay me less.
But in their rush to excuse themselves, they revealed some deeply embedded biases; one of their excuses for the discrepancy was that the male coworker in question “had a family.” I pointed out that I do too – and unlike my male coworkers at the time, mine is a single-income household. I got the raise I wanted, but I left shortly thereafter. I want to know that my work is valued and that my contributions are respected, and it was clear to me that wasn’t the case with this employer.
Equal Pay Day takes place in early April every year and symbolizes the additional days the average woman in the U.S. must work to make the amount of money a White man in her position made the year prior. But there is a separate equal pay day – African American Equal Pay Day – that takes place months later and symbolizes how much longer than their White counterparts Black women have to work to make up for the difference in pay. While the average White woman is paid 75 cents for every White man’s dollar, the average Black woman is paid only 63 cents.
Hispanic and Native American women are paid even less.
I’ve thought long and hard about my role in ensuring that I personally receive equal pay for equal work. While I’m still in school for my B.A., I know education isn’t a cure for the wage gap; if anything, the more educated a woman is, the worse the wage gap is.
While a woman doctor is paid more than a woman telemarketer, there’s a bigger wage difference between men and women in the medical field than between what a man and a woman make in customer service. Women make up more and more of the well-educated workforce, but that isn’t a quick fix for our problems. We need to overcome the inherent biases around gender, race, work, worth, and our assumptions about who is working to support a family.
What I tell other women is this: know what you’re worth, and don’t ever settle for less. Any time I accept a position, I always negotiate my salary, I research the median salary for the position I’m accepting, determine what constitutes a competitive salary, and assess my own added value, such as additional experience. Regardless of my employer, I stay sharp and ready if I need to leave, keep my resume polished, and take advantage of any opportunity for additional trainings or growth.
Make sure you’re doing your job – and don’t accept less than you’re worth.
I don’t believe that it’s fair that we have to fight so much harder to be treated exactly the same. But I’ll tell you this: as long as we’re in this fight, I plan to win.
Brooke Malone is an activist with the Make It Work campaign, which works to advance economic security for women, men, and families across the country. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.