You worked hard last quarter. You attended back-to-back meetings every evening, picked up extra hours at your part-time job, and spent so much time at the library that you officially have a favorite study carrel. Although you genuinely enjoy learning (Nerdwestern didn’t get its nickname by chance), there is no denying that there is an additional goal in mind – great career options after graduation. No matter where your ambitions lie, you’ve busted your butt under the pretense that you can achieve anything as long as you work hard.
Well, if you’re a guy.
If you’re one of the over four thousand female undergraduates at Northwestern, that may not be true. You may land that dream job, but you probably will not land the paycheck that should accompany that job.
On average, women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. At the time when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar that her male counterpart earned. We’ve closed the gap by a mere 18 cents. Yes, you read that correctly – 18 cents! As activist Marlo Thomas joked, “Forty years and eighteen cents. A dozen eggs have gone up ten times that amount.” If you are Hispanic or African American, the wage difference increases substantially. African American women make 64.5 cents for every dollar their white male counterparts make, and Hispanic women are down to 54.1 cents. Compared within the same racial or ethnic background, both African American and Hispanic women make 88 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. This demonstrates that the problem pervades all races and ethnicities, but white men have the largest advantage in terms of median annual earnings.
This year, Equal Pay Day falls on April 8, 2014. This is the day in 2014 that marks the extra amount of days women have to work to earn what their male counterparts earned in the previous year. To put it another way, women have to work a third of the following year to catch up to men.
But here you are, sitting at a top-tier university and thinking, “Well, I worked hard to earn a degree from Northwestern, this probably won’t affect me.” Again, you would be incorrect. Studies show that the wage gap increases with the number of degrees obtained. On average, a white woman with a Master’s degree earns less than a white man with a Bachelor’s degree. Even worse, a Hispanic woman with a Bachelor’s earns less than a white male with a high school degree. In fact, male college graduates earn $1.2 million more than their female counterparts during their lifetime.
Now I’m not trying to insinuate that your happiness should be dictated by your paycheck, but I am advocating for equal work for equal compensation. Do not be fooled by the illusion of equality between men and women. Although men and women are beginning to hold similar positions in the workplace, true equality will not prevail until their work is valued equally.
Now you’re probably sitting here disappointed and wondering what can be done. The current movement for equal pay revolves around the Paycheck Fairness Act. This Act was first introduced in 2009 and would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, prohibit employers to punish employees for sharing salary information with each other and allow plaintiffs bringing Equal Pay Act claims to recover unlimited compensatory and punitive damages. However, the Paycheck Fairness Act continues to move from the House to the Senate with numerous rejections.
Why are the Paycheck Fairness Act and other efforts to promote pay equality continuously shut down? Because women are not speaking up. The facts may upset you, but nothing will change until we take a stand. Help the millions of women currently in the workforce, help your fellow classmates, and help yourself! Even small changes can make a difference. Stand in unity with other women and wear red on Equal Pay Day (April 8) to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay. Write to your local congressmen and allow your voice to be heard by giving them your view on why they should advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Spread the word to family and friends, men and women alike, in order to bring light and transparency to the issue.
Most importantly, remember to speak up, women. We can't afford to stay silent any longer.