The gender wage gap is real. But, the career choices you make today can help create equal pay for women and narrow the wage gap.
It's unfortunate that the pandemic and childcare needs pushed many women out of the workforce. However, the recovery is in full force. And more woman than ever are eager to get back to work.
Before we dive into how you can thrive and help create equal pay for yourself and other women, here's a bit about me.
My name is Sydney and I'm a 40-something, frugal, working mom of two. I love personal finance and have been blogging for over ten years.
I grew up on the east coast in a humble, multi-cultural, lower middle class/low income household. After years of fighting, my parents divorced when I was a shy, gangly tween. (Halleluah, it took them long enough) And I spent the rest of my schooldays growing up with my self-effacing, nurturing Asian immigrant mother.
After studying economics in college, I ventured out west to San Francisco and never looked back. Having lived on both coasts, I'm in total agreement with Sam – west coast living really is that much better.
I spent the bulk of my career in finance, but my heart just wasn't in it for the long haul. So I started side hustling in 2010. I ramped up my savings, negotiated a severance in 2015 and left the finance industry to be my own boss. Now I spend most of my days being a mom, working online, and managing different projects.
Women Have Taken A Lot Of Crap In Our Careers
Sam's post, Career Advice For Women: Blaze Your Own Path Instead!, really got me thinking about my own work experiences as a woman. I've certainly experienced my fair share of sexism in the workplace. I sat in on old boys' club style boardroom meetings with all men except for me. And banged my head into a glass ceiling when I least expected it.
I've also been a victim of the gender wage gap. Not making equal pay is infuriating. I even made less than some of my male colleagues even though I more experience. It's so obvious to me now that I lost out on many opportunities. I was overlooked for raises and bonuses over the years. But I was in denial that I wasn't earning equal pay for a long time.
I used to think that asking for more money was inappropriate. In addition, I avoided confronting my bosses as much as possible. I chose not to start difficult conversations because it was easier to keep my head down and do my work.
Meanwhile, to justify my lack of action, I would convince myself that I was being paid well. But deep down I knew I wasn't earning equal pay.
I didn't address the fact that I was making less than my male colleagues. Instead, I blindly accepted it for a good portion of my career. I was foolishly contributing to the gender wage gap by staying silent.
Fortunately, I came to my senses eventually when my pent up frustration boiled over. As a introvert and not the best conversation starter, it was hard. But with practice, I built up enough courage to start asking for better pay. With more confidence, I began to chase after opportunities instead of letting them pass by.
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Moms' Career Choices Impact Equal Pay For Daughters
I recently had a small epiphany when reflecting on why I avoided asking for a raise for so many years. My realization: years of observing my mother's career choices.
She raised me as a single mom for half my childhood. Naturally, I believed everything she did was right. Looking back, I spent a lot of time with her at her office. She had an hourly based clerical job, which she held for nearly 30 years until she retired.
I remember so clearly now how she used to grumble about how little she made. She also told me on multiple occasions that she kept getting passed over for promotions. Her boss kept bringing on new hires at higher hourly rates with often less experience. Meanwhile, her pay rate stayed the same. Even though she seemed unhappy and wasn't earning equal pay, she kept working there.
Did my mom ever talk to her boss about her feelings of being underpaid and ask for a raise? No. Did she ever look for other job opportunities with better pay? Nope. Did she ever use her seniority and dedication to her job as leverage to get bonuses? Sadly, no.
I never saw her try to change her situation. So, I just assumed that what she was experiencing was “normal.” I presume she was making the best choice to accept what she had and not ruffle any feathers.
Unfortunately, this negatively affected me. It made be believe that it was bad to speak up and expect equal pay. At least I finally came to my senses after several years in the workforce.
Observations As Girls Impact How We Think As Women
What did she do? My mom generally liked her boss and always went the extra mile when it came to accuracy and production. She was so loyal that she worked countless hours of overtime on the weekends and in the evenings for years upon years. Unfortunately, she was also in a continual state of stress and frustration.
She never felt fully satisfied with her work. And, she always said she needed to do more. I can't count the number of times she'd bring work home during the weekdays. That or take me to her office on the weekends so she could get more done or fix other people's mistakes. However, nobody else was ever there.
Observing my mother's actions and inactions really influenced how I handled my own career for many years.
Here are some of the workplace perceptions I used to believe were “normal” for women based on what I observed as a girl for so many years:
- Loyalty and going the extra mile are top priorities even if my boss/company is taking advantage of me.
- If someone else is making more money than me, it's because they deserve it and I don't.
- I'll be lucky to have a boss and colleagues that are nice to me.
- I should never bring up my concerns with my boss or ask them for anything.
- Finding a new job is not worth the time or risks. There's no hope in finding something better.
- Work is never-ending and stress is just a part of my job.
- I shouldn't ask for help because that would make me look weak and incapable.
I certainly don't blame my mother for the poor decisions I've made in my own career. But her career choices influenced me more than I realized for a long time.
She worked hard to maintain a steady income and has always only wanted the best for me. But now that I'm a mom, I need to be mindful about how my own career choices can influence how my kids will perceive the workplace when they're older.
Our Actions Today Will Bring A Brighter Future
The gender wage inequality is still prevalent in the U.S. and around the world. But, we are slowly making progress. More women are college educated today than in previous generations. There are more women in executive positions today than in the past. And over 100 companies signed the Equal Pay Pledge that was launched by The White House in June 2016.
A study by the Resolution Foundation also shows that the pay gaps afflicting women in our younger generations aren't as severe as those experienced amongst older generations.
But there's still a ways to go. And the gap for female Millennials could worsen as more women in that age group exit the workforce or reduce hours during their 30s and 40s to raise children.
For those of you women out there who feel you're underpaid or are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, I encourage you to speak up. I used to believe that what my mom put up with in her career was normal for a woman and thus I stayed silent about my own frustrations for a long time.
Eventually, I learned the hard way during my career that if you don't ask, you don't get. And I also learned that to acquire ultimate happiness and satisfaction, you have to take your career and destiny into your own hands.
For all of you moms and dads out there, I hope you have the chance to spread lots and lots of positive messages to your kids about workplace equality and standing up for what they deserve. Together we can lead by example to help more women earn equal pay in our current working generations and in those to come.
One of the best things I ever did was negotiate a severance thanks to Sam's guidance. I retired early at 34, traveled to 20 new countries, and love being a financially independent mom.
Here are some additional articles for further reading.