1988: A posting goes up in my high school for summer jobs with the county. Four people will be chosen from all the students who apply. I’m small boned and petite in build. I want one of those manual labor jobs. I’ve been accepted into University and have to pay my own way. That job pays $7/hr. SEVEN DOLLARS AN HOUR. More than I’d make at any other job.
I fill out an application and get on the interview list. I’m halfway there. My mom looks at me a little worried, she knows I have my heart set. “Carrie, you know they work those kids hard, right? It will be cutting grass all over the county and probably not on riding mowers. You’ll have to paint classrooms and refinish hardwood floors in the gyms. That means hauling all the furniture out, too. It will be long days.”
Translation: Girl, you are 85lbs soaking wet. They’re going to pick bigger kids.
I’ve already thought about that. I go to the interview in dark jeans and a sweatshirt that hides how tiny I am. Unbeknownst to me, very shy, I’m good in interviews (look for the signs people, they’re always pointing the way: today I’m an executive recruiter). I walk out feeling pretty good. My mom looks at me like I’m delusional when I tell her I think I got the job. Interviews go on for several days and then a sign goes up in the hallway at school announcing the successful applicants. My name is at the top of the list.
Of the four selected, there are two girls and two boys. I later learn the girls will be paid $7/hr and the boys $7.50/hr because they will do most of the “heavy lifting”. On the first day I showed up a little nervous but ready to roll dressed in a t-shirt, sweats and sneakers. My bosses, two rough and tumble guys, took one look at my string bean arms and back at each other like what in the hell have they sent us this time? I worked 10 hour days that summer doing everything my mom told me I’d be doing and more. A lot of times I worked through my lunch break or stayed a little later because I wanted to earn the same paycheck the boys did and I said it, too. You know what the boys actually did that summer? Smoked weed at lunch, slept in the locker rooms on benches and did about 50% of the work my female co-worker and I did. Our employers loved us because we hauled ass.
It was the first time I experienced pay discrimination in the work place.
2001: I get offered a position in Los Angeles with a small search firm just starting out. I’m a little leery because I don’t want to leave the Pacific Northwest, but it’s post-911, the dotcom bust has left jobless victims everywhere and this guy’s been calling me for months. I fly out to meet him and finally accept the job.
I make it clear in all conversations that I do not do business development. My specialties are research, sourcing and candidate development, that’s it. I reiterate this face to face. He assures me he has hired a guy for that and my work will be focused on my skills.
In the first quarter I generate $200,000 by reaching out to former contacts. The pressure’s on and the guy hired to do business development can’t keep up. This continues for a calendar year. The boss gives me two pay increases in that time, yet somehow I just know I’m making less than my male counterpart.
One day after we both receive a pay increase he walks in my office and closes the door, congratulating me. He acknowledges I’ve saved his ass and that of the business, “You deserve this raise, Carrie. You really do. We never would’ve made it without you.” Why did I feel so honored when I should have been enraged? I responded, “Thank you for saying that. I mean, I know I still don’t make as much as you do, but I appreciate the extra money because I’ve been doing my job and some of yours.”
Him (with a nervous smirk): How do you know I make more than you?
Me: Because I’m me and you’re you. Even though you’re much younger than I am you’re a male with a family who is in, what he (the employer) deems, the superior position. Let’s face it though, if the shoe was on the other foot I’d probably make even less than I do now because my having children would be viewed as a hindrance. Instead now I’m a single female with fewer expenses.
Him: But he told us the organization was flat.
Me: Sure, and so is the earth.
Later I found out, after the guy burned me out working at this pace for 2.5 years and fired me for stress-related neural problems because my health insurance was too high (his words, not mine but the reality is I refused to do my male counterpart’s job anymore), that my male counterpart made $35,000 more than me and had the entire time. He also got six weeks of paid vacation to my two.
2017: This fall I went to meet with my current employer. At the time we were just former colleagues from my consulting days. We’d worked together off and on for 12 years prior, primarily I was called on as an outside resource when internal resources either did not possess the skills to or could not complete a VP or C-Level search.
In this meeting we discussed people we thought might be good for the job. During our conversation one particular name kept coming up. I voiced how unimpressed I was with his work and said I didn’t think he could handle an entrepreneurial environment with limited resources to get projects completed.
One person at the table said they didn’t think this guy would come over because he was so highly paid in his current position. I laughed, I mean guttural laughed out loud at the table, “How much money could he possibly be making?” Imagine my terror when the number reached my ears: $385,000 that was increased to $585,000 when he threatened to leave. I felt the blood drain out of my face, struggled to keep my mouth closed.
I had been paid to shadow that person off and on for 3 years prior, making sure he was keeping up on difficult projects, filling in his blanks directly to the partner so as not to offend him. During this time I was doing my own work within the firm, additional searches I had in my own book of business, and getting ragged on that my invoices were “a little too high.”
You know how much money I made? Half of that first number for TWICE the amount of work in that firm ALONE.
It’s been six months and that information gnaws at me every day. I had a stroke working under those conditions while he drove around in a soft-top BMW.
I know women have a lot of privileges in the United States and North America, in general. We are not under threat of genital mutilation, polygamy or child marriage. We can protest and speak out and raise our voices against whatever injustices we face. I acknowledge all females today and every day. I acknowledge my privilege as a female in the United States compared to women in other parts of the world.
I worked today. I got out of bed grateful for my job, even more grateful to be working for firm that is female-owned. I accept my right to work. I do it for myself and on behalf of women everywhere who aren’t afforded that same right.
It is our responsibility to keep forging ahead on women’s issues here and abroad, to continue to fight for what is justly ours. The wage gap has burned me, personally, for the past 20+ years and I am sick of it. I want my money. I want what is owed to me and I want it to match what men at my level are making. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, so why do I still have to?