The name Equal Pay Day is deceiving because, as you already know, it is most certainly not the day we celebrate equal pay for equal work. We are still 170 years away from that achievement, give or take a month.
Here’s the history behind it: This day was first ‘celebrated’ in 1996, and was initiated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE). It was born out of the need to highlight the gap between men and women’s wages. Held in April, it is symbolic of how far into a new year women must work to achieve the same income as men did in the previous year. It is held on a Tuesday as a symbol of how far into the next week a woman must work to earn the same wages that her male counterpart earned the previous week.
The message of this day has held a prominent place in my life. Here’s why…
I remember with greater clarity than I’d like, the day I went into Personnel (that’s vintage for HR) to find out if I’d gotten the promotion I’d worked so hard for. It was my first ‘real job’ and I just loved it. Six days and sixty hours a week, I gave it my all, intending to rise quickly through the ranks. I thought the promotion was a slam dunk; I was wrong.
My Personnel Advisor told me that although I had ‘exceeded expectations’ and was a stellar employee, I did not get the promotion. I was shocked when he told me, but even more so when he told me why: The only other candidate for the position was a husband and a dad to three kids— he needed the job more than I did as a single woman.
I was infuriated. Incensed. Indignant. I do not wear those traits very well.
I was told I had no recourse, so I went back to work that afternoon, with the knowing that this conversation had transformed me. And not in a good way. By the time I made my way back to my office I was armed with a huge chip on my shoulder, and a lousy attitude. The chip eventually dissolved but it would be decades before my attitude let go of its grip on me.
I suspect that after that conversation, I was no longer a stellar employee. I’d been screwed out of a promotion because of my gender, and I was quite vocal about how displeased I was. A year later I resigned to take a much better position and, to this today, I’d swear I heard a collective sigh of relief when I hit the employee’s door for the last time.
Every women reading this article has her own version of the inequalities she’s been subjected to solely because of her gender. Equal pay is often the least of it, isn’t it? For women of color, it’s an even more difficult road ,strewn with even uglier stories.
As with most things in life, the most heart-breaking events can either stop us or start us. I chose the latter, though I didn’t know it at the time.
That day, in Personnel, I was devastated. I cried, I screamed, I vowed revenge and, truthfully, I was this far away from quitting. I can’t tell you why, but I didn’t. Instead, I plotted.
Though momentarily blinded by my hissy fit, I also had a burst of brilliance and insight. I remember that very night thinking that I would use this some day; that I would take all the emotion I had wrapped up in the injustice of it, and I’d go do some good with it. And I have.
It has been several lifetimes since I was passed over for that promotion, but it was that single experience that incited me to start the business I own today; equipping women with the mindset, tools and skills to take charge of their own lives. That day I swore that I’d work to help every woman (that might have been a bit ambitious but, heck, I was only twenty-five) to realize her potential, to manifest her gifts and to use her voice to leave a positive impact.
To the Personnel Advisor who delivered the decision that day- Thank you!
What are your thoughts? Do you experience wage disparity in your work? Does your organization do anything to narrow or eliminate the gap? What can you do?
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