Although Women’s History month ended a few days ago, I wanted to end my celebration with a discussion about Equal Pay Day. Statistics show that women are systematically paid less than men for doing the same job. As a matter of fact, women may only be paid around 70% of what men are paid for the same position.
I have not had access to the detailed data from which these statistics were derived. In my mind, there can be all kinds of explanations for why the data could be skewed lower due to circumstance rather than deliberate discrimination. For example, the women in the sample could have earned degrees that did not allow them to start down their career path at a pay level equal to a man with a different educational background. A woman may have chosen to take time out of the workforce to raise children and thus missed out on years of career experience and earning potential. Perhaps the women accepted a lower paying job in order to have flexibility with work hours or because she was location dependent. A single mother might accept a lower paying job for the stability of income rather than risk changing companies. See, as a scientist, I know that it’s not too hard to make data tell any story you desire and that there is a story behind every data point. Realistically, I know these explanations exist. It does not, however, explain the systematic practice of paying women less than their male counterparts.
Thankfully, I will admit that I am not one of these statistics. So, I want to share some of the lessons I have learned over the past few years about being a woman in a male-dominated workplace. First, women seem more likely to accept additional work duties without a corresponding financial compensation for this work. I think it has something to do with the fact that, especially as working mothers, we are used to constantly taking on new responsibilities and silently carrying the burden. In the workplace, however, it’s a balance between wanting to be seen as a team player and being a doormat. Before accepting a new responsibility, think about whether or not the same would be asked of a male co-worker and if the expectation is realistic. For a while, one of my famous work quotes went something like this: “I think that’s a great idea, and I’d love to do it. Unfortunately, I’m just one person.” Eventually, they got the idea.
Similarly, girls are taught that they should not be overly aggressive or boastful. Have you ever been around a group of guys like this? They don’t exhibit this same behavior. Instead, a group of guys will be boasting about who is the best-looking, the most athletic, or has the best luck with the ladies. Women would never tolerate such behavior from one another, and someone who talked like that would instantly be labeled as a bitch. This definitely hinders women in the workplace when it comes to financial performance rewards. We need to realize that we are our own best advocate for career accomplishments, and we cannot be timid about pointing out those accomplishments. If you don’t, you and your accomplishments will be overlooked. There is a fine line between being confident and being considered a bitch by some less open-minded male co-workers. However, I can tell you that being called a bitch behind your back isn’t the worst thing in the world. Someone who would say that about a confident, smart woman really just reveals their own character in the process. Don’t let that concern hold you back from being proud of yourself and your work.
Family considerations often force us into keeping jobs that we have outgrown. If you are not location dependent or forced to stay in a job for flexible work hours or insurance, consider a new job if there are no longer opportunities for growth and financial gain in your current position. Know your worth and what you bring to the table. Demand to be compensated for those contributions and be ready to leave if your employer is not willing to meet you at the table. This is the only way we will ever break through the pay gap.