In honor of Equal Pay Day, I wanted to share a personal story about a time when I was unfairly compensated for the work I was doing. I’ve contemplated sharing this for a while and didn’t want to out of fear that future employers would see this, but I’ve found that it’s important to speak my truth. This is something I’ve been wanting to share for a while—here we go:
To give some background, Equal Pay Day is a date to symbolize how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year and was created by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996. According to the U.S. Census, in 2018 women earned 81.6 cents for every dollar men earned in full-time, year-round salaries. The gap is even greater for women of color. In 2017, African American women earned 62 cents, Hispanic women earned 54 cents, and Asian American women earn 90 cents.
This brings me to my story about a time when I was unfairly paid at work. I was hired to work at a company at an entry-level rate, which was fine because at the time I was still starting out in my career and did not know any better. After a year, I approached the boss I had at the time about raises. He mentioned that the company had an 18-month policy, wherein I could not get a raise after working there for only a year, however because I was doing valuable work he would vouch for me with the CEO to see if it would be possible. As it turns out, I was granted the raise and was given a new title and did not have to wait 18 months.
Fast forward to the next year: I had a new boss and started to do more work than the previous year. I approached the new boss about a raise and she said she would not be able to give me an answer because she was still new and didn’t know what to do, so I decided to schedule a meeting with the CEO of the company, who liked when employees advocated for themselves when asking for raises. I walked into the meeting and stated my case to the CEO, who then said he understood what I was asking for but ultimately left it up to my new boss and they would both let me know before I went away for the holidays. Fair enough.
A couple of weeks passed by and I was gearing up to take a well-deserved break for the holidays and my boss called me into her office to discuss the status of my raise. She then said that after discussion with the CEO, they decided that I was not going to be granted the raise because I did not demonstrate that I deserved it based on my workload, that they wanted to see me taking on more projects, and that I needed to honor the 18-month policy, even though it didn’t matter the first time. Angrily, I left the meeting on the verge of tears, frustrated that the powers that be were against me. So I went home for the holidays to recover and reflect on whether this job was worth sticking around at or if I was being irrational and needed to work harder. I ultimately decided that I would come back and do as I was told to take on more work and prove that I was worth the salary increase.
The next six months involved me taking on more projects and even taking on half of the workload of a coworker who left, so you could say I was stressed out of my mind and wondered if it was all worth it. My breaking point came when I was refused vacation time to attend my grandma’s funeral because 1) this company did not offer bereavement and 2) no one would be able to cover my workload, including my boss who flat out told me she didn’t know if she could take on my tasks because it was too challenging for her to understand. So I quit. After I gave my two-weeks notice, I learned something even more frustrating: my new coworker who was fresh out of college and had a more junior role was making the same salary as me. The worst part? Our other coworker who had been there for at least five years knew exactly how much I was making and knew I had concerns that whoever was going to be offered this role would be making the same exact salary as me because she knew I was denied the raise. She assured me at the time that this person would be making less, and that was not the case. Might I add that all of these coworkers and my boss were Caucasian women and I am a woman of color—one of the only ones who worked that company. I was furious yet felt liberated that I quit a toxic company and toxic coworkers. And when I had my exit interview with the CEO, I told him about how I found out that the junior coworker and I were making the same salary and that it was unfair because I did more work, and he snidely replied, “Well, we were going to give you a big raise at the beginning of next month, but you’re leaving!” What a lie.
The point of this story is that I hope women can be more vocal about their salaries but also that white women in particular do not block marginalized groups from achieving salaries that they rightfully deserve. The point of this story is that I’m sure other women and women of color have been in my shoes and this needs to be talked about, not swept under the rug as though it’s okay that women are barred from making the money they deserve. The point of this story is we need to keep fighting for what we deserve. So ladies, let’s go out there and get that bread.