When Jennifer Lawrence found out that she earned significantly less money for her work on American Hustle than her male co-stars, she wrote, “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up too early.”
I’ve never been paid $1.25 million for any of my work (not saying I don’t deserve it), but I could totally relate to her experience, including her sense of personal responsibility.
In 1997, I lived in Dallas with a roommate who was in college. I was pregnant with my first son and schlepping bagels at a popular franchise to pay my half of the bills.
Then D-bag, my roommate’s boyfriend, moved in with us. He specialized in eating our food, using our electricity and running up our phone bill, of which he contributed zero in return. The dude didn’t even pay rent, and my roommate was totally OK with it.
Two months into the nifty arrangement, D-bag mentioned he wanted to work somewhere, but had no experience in, well, anything. Figuring my job wasn’t too hard for beginners, I asked my manager (a man) if he could give the guy an interview. In less than a week, D-bag was schlepping bagels right alongside me.
Somehow, while double toasting an everything bagel, talk of pay came up. D-bag mentioned he was earning $7.50 an hour, which, at the time, was $2.50 more per hour than minimum wage.
Hearing this, my stomach dropped. When I was hired, I negotiated my hourly wage because I had experience in food service �� years of it. My pay? Six dollars an hour. I was proud of that amount, felt like I was in the big leagues of bagel serving.
In one fell swoop, all that pride of negotiating $1 more per hour for my paycheck rolled itself into the fetal position, started sucking its thumb and pooped its pants.
Want to know what’s worse? I did absolutely nothing about it.
When I learned that my boss was screwing me out of 20 percent of my potential earnings, I never breathed a word of dissatisfaction.
Why? Probably because I was afraid that complaining would cost me my job. It was my only source of income, and with a baby on the way, I had no chance of gaining new employment in time to go on maternity leave. So, I stuffed those feelings of inadequacy and anger down, forced my unborn child to taste the bitterness of my inability to demand equality and worked as per usual.
Eighteen years later, it still haunts me.
Today I would never let something like that happen on my watch. I encourage female friends to speak up and assert their value. Yet hiding in my own closet is the truth that I just shut up and took it. I allowed sex discrimination to impact me.
This year, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) compiled mass amounts of data from the U.S. Census Bureau to understand the disparity of gender-based pay. Their findings aren’t pretty. The national average shows that the annual income for a woman is 21 percent less than a man’s. When variable factors like education, employment and relationship status, geography and more were taken into account, there was still an unexplained 7 percent gap between men and women one year after college, and a 12 percent pay gap 10 years later.
Back at the bagel shop, where the only degree was the temperature of the oven, there was no viable difference between my and D-bag’s work. There were other differences, though. D-bag stole bagels nearly every day, bringing them home so he “didn’t have to buy groceries.”
Still, D-bag got paid more than me, not because of experience, ability or loyalty to the company but rather, because he had a penis.
The takeaway from my experience, from Jennifer Lawrence’s unequal pay revelation and for the millions of women in our country who are still not being paid the same amount of money for the same work as their male co-workers, is that we carry a part of the responsibility.
There will never be equal pay as long as we shut our mouths and tell ourselves that standing up for what is rightfully ours will cost us more than we deserve. We have to be unafraid to speak up, and unyielding in our efforts to prove our value in the workplace.
What I did was cowardly. I sided with an antiquated system that determined my sex to be worth 20 percent less than a man’s, a lazy man at that. I only have myself to blame.
Don’t toe the line the way I did. Speak up, speak out and earn the wage that is rightfully yours.