By Leisa Patin
Eight years ago, I was thrilled to be offered a job with a new company, with a sizeable raise from my old job. I accepted the new position as Senior Design Engineer without hesitation. Little did I know how much more the offer would have been if I had been a man.
Soon after starting my new job, another vacancy opened there, and I encouraged a former coworker to apply. Once hired, he made a comment to me about his new salary. I was shocked to hear that their starting offer to him was greater than mine. Furthermore, the original amount was less than his former salary, so they increased their offer even more. I was shocked because he was making about $12,000 per year more than me. I was 10 years older and had been in the industry 20 years longer. Having just been at the company for a few months I was, unfortunately, reluctant to bring this up with my department manager.
Not long after I was hired I was given a lead position on a mega project. I believe this highlighted my wage disparity, and HR stepped in. Within one year I received a large increase and promotion to Principal Design Engineer. I now receive approximately 75 percent more in salary than the day I was hired 8 years before. This is due partially to the industry boom, but much to the effort by HR.
I would like to say that all is perfect, but in the male-dominated profession of engineering, I still battle prejudice regarding job assignments and respect for my position. My consolation is that my pay is now at least comparable to my peers.
Stories like mine are not a thing of the past. Today, women are still paid less than men in every state and region of the country1. Women are paid less than men in male-dominated fields like electrical engineering, and also in female-dominated industries, as teachers and receptionists2. Due to wage secrecy and cultural norms of women’s roles, many women don’t know that they can or should negotiate for higher pay. There is also evidence that when women do initiate pay negotiations, they may be penalized more than men.3
We need to pass proactive policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act. Among other things, this federal legislation would ensure that workers are allowed to share wage information with each other. It would also prohibit new employers from asking about salary history in order to determine your pay at a new job — because, as my story shows, that practice allows unequal pay from a past job to continue to haunt you. Hopefully, women will no longer face the shock I did at accidentally discovering how much my work was undervalued because of my gender. We can and must ensure that women earn 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!
- Coukos, Pamela. “Myth Busting the Pay Gap.” United States Department of Labor. June 7, 2012.
- “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research. April 2013.
- “Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year After College Graduation.” Association of American University Women. October 2012.