Unequal Pay for Going Above and Beyond
Wheat Ridge, CO.
I worked for Jefferson County for eight years, as a zoning inspector. I had been doing code enforcement for fifteen years in local government and another two years in finance for the City of Lakewood.
When I began to work for Jeffco, I was elated about the opportunity to be employed with what seemed to be a very dynamic work group in one of the most beautiful counties in Colorado.
However, it wasn’t long after my employment that a local paper published all of our salaries, due to the nature of government transparency. It was through this publication that I realized, despite my previous 10 years of government experience, I was the lowest paid of the four inspectors. Upon further notice, I found out that the other woman who worked with me only made a tad more than I did and the two men we worked with made significantly more.
Because I was comfortable speaking with my supervisor, I asked him about this and blatantly asked “aren’t we all doing the same work, with the same job title and same job description?” He advised me it was because the men had been there significantly longer and had received raises under a different manager.
I thought I could address this injustice with action. I asked for and received training. I became certified in flood plain management through FEMA. I was certified as an erosion control supervisor for the State of Colorado. And I had certification through our state organization of code enforcement officials, both entry and advancement. I became trained in storm water management and had a background in enforcement of Clean Air policies, unlike any of my colleagues. I worked very hard asking for additional duties and more opportunities at every turn.
I was fortunate that all of my actions and reputation earned a leadership role — however, it was in level of responsibility only, it was not reflected in pay. I was given some financial reward only for the Stormwater coordinator role, and still was the lowest paid of the four inspectors.
I also took it upon myself to research the market salaries and ranges for anyone performing similar jobs and job duties in the entire metro area. I discovered I was being underpaid at a margin of approximately $20,000 per year. I documented all of my research, which I conducted on my own time, and presented it to our director. I was advised that he was aware of this and would take it into consideration. Two years later, I had received a $700 bonus (which I actually nominated myself for) and a 4 percent raise after a seven-year period of no salary increases. I had worked up to four jobs at a time to make it from month to month, pay check to pay check, surviving that period of time, wanting to stay in a job that I dearly loved. I had damaged my body by over working it. This had led to additional expenses out of pocket for me, which in turn is money taken away from my family. I had to purchase orthotics to protect my feet from excruciating pain. Additionally, I missed valuable time away from my family working so many hours.
I struggled not to become bitter every two weeks knowing that my male cohorts were taking home significantly larger paychecks than I was. I fought off pure rage knowing that their retirement deposits were larger than mine every paycheck and in turn I would probably have to work later in life to earn the same retirement, especially knowing that women on average live longer than men. I tried to tell myself to be thankful I even had a job. But the truth is that I can’t even lie to myself, because the truth is absolute. Women are earning less than men for the same work.1
The state has an obligation to serve the women of Colorado by not just acknowledging that the law provides for equality but also for conducting research on the matter and enforcing the law, engaging hiring practices that speak directly to the law and demonstrate a compliance with the law and this is why I spoke at several hearings for the continuation of the Pay Equity Commission, that sadly died in committee.
Enough is enough. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.
This blog post is part of 9to5’s collection Faces of the Wage Gap, illuminating the many factors which contribute to income inequality and the necessary solutions needed to reach true economic justice for all women. Please share via social media!
- “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research. April 2013.