Women’s History Month Is Over, But The Conversations Are Just Getting Started
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. ~ Audre Lorde
Women’s History Month this year was inspiring, heartbreaking, and action packed! The #metoo and #TimesUp movement created a veritable storm of conversations around the country and in my backyard — Seattle.
Seattle often gets to claim progressive values, but with one of the largest gender wage gap (and the largest wage gap for women with graduate degrees) and opportunity gap (fueled by a highly segregated K-12 system), it’s time we stop hiding behind our so-called progress and lean-into the tough conversations.
I was lucky to share not once, or twice, but four times to audiences seeking to join the conversation on gender and pay equity.
On Saturday March 31st I closed the month at the Ladies Get Paid conference with two brilliant women of color, speaking up about the experiences of women of color in the workplace. Below, some of my best takeaways from the conferences and a month filled with deep learning and reflection.
The laws are changing, but bias is not
Washington state joined a small group of states to pass a Pay Equity bill just in time for International Women’s Day. The bill expands existing federal law so that bosses can’t stop employees from talking about their wages. The bill also requires workers in comparable jobs be paid equally (base pay, not overall compensation) and mandate equitable training and other career advancement opportunities across all genders.
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However, after spending a morning with the Washington State Bar Association a few days after the passage of this bill, I learnt that it’s not always easy to take action if you find pay inequities in the workplace. The burden of generating a huge amount of proof still lies with those that are being victimized — from sexual harassment, to racial discrimination and unequal pay, those that are suffering are ultimately on the hook for bringing forth a strong claim. And it is in the organization’s best interest to mitigate risk by disproving this claim (and have many resources to do so). For most people, engaging in this battle is expensive, time consuming and humiliation.
Even in a more perfect world, where there you are getting paid the same, systemic inequities and bias abound. In co-ed workplaces women still do a larger percentage of the office housework, are given less interesting assignments and consistently receive feedback for their voice/tone instead of performance. In largely female workplaces, women of color draw the shorter straw.
All of this leads to fewer promotions and greater attrition. While they are 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force and 36 percent of first- or mid-level officials and managers in those companies, they are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 20 percent of board seats, and are only 6 percent of CEOs.
So how do we move forward when the laws are not enough?
Find your allies and advocates at work
One of the most important lessons I have learnt this year, is building a communities of allies and advocates within your organization.
Allies are people who share the same concerns. E.g., Women of color facing discrimination over wearing their hair naturally (read ethnic — curly, wavy, with braids etc). Allyship can take a lot of forms, and depending on the size of your organization, you might even be able to form an employee resource group.
Advocates are people who are not challenged by similar circumstances, but support your concerns. For my fellow social sector professionals, especially in middle management and those new to leadership roles, build a base of advocates on the board and with community partners. The best advocates are people that are action-oriented, equity minded and have social credibility within the organization to affect change.
Find both A’s. As women of color/PoC, we often look to other women of color/PoC, but it’s important to be open to support from white women and men in the workplace. **White colleagues, this is an invitation for you to step up and speak up on behalf of women and people of color that face discrimination.
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Build your community
New parents have PEPS groups, and you have…? Hopefully you have a rich network of people outside of your immediate work circle. If the answer is, not yet, let’s get to work (no pun intended)!
It’s never too late to start building that network. This a larger community of support, for collaboration, for connection, and mostly importantly for problem solving. Here are few of my favorites in the Greater Seattle Area:
FBomb Breakfast Club and the Female Founders Alliance — great places to meet female founders, Social Impact Happy Hours by Erin Ewart for those looking for social sector jobs, Here Seattle — for a diverse group, and one of my favorite pink scrunchie brigade, Ladies Get Paid.
Speak up and Share
And when you’re out and about building your community, remember to share often and authentically. There is a popular saying and it goes something like “don’t air your dirty laundry”. This phrase is coded language for, don’t air your grievances, and is one of the many ways in which our voice is suppressed. The #metoo and #TimesUp movement is teaching us that speaking up is not important but essential.
One of the best ways to combat pay inequity is by talking about your wages. Sure, it’s really uncomfortable (unless you come from an Indian family, in which case, all you do is talk about what you make), but it’s one of the best ways to compare and contrast not only your base salary but also benefits, bonuses and other perks!
Similarly, discrimination and harassment can only be checked, if you’re willing to talk about it. Don’t wait for all the dominoes to fall. Sometimes it’s important to be the first one, to be bold, so that others can follow. Know your allies and advocates, be grounded in community, and speak your truth.