Equal Pay Day Opinion: Wage Gap Persists in Columbus
In my late twenties, I had a flashy job in New York City, and then I experienced an unexpected pregnancy. I felt my world, which had been as wide as the sky, shrink to the size of a nursery with yellow wallpaper. My employer was jealous of my time – no one else in the office had young children – and the one way trip from our Astoria apartment to my daughter’s daycare to my office in Manhattan was almost an hour. New York was untenable; my husband and I moved home to Ohio.
The employment landscape in Columbus was a shock. The recruiter talked me down to accepting a salary $20,000 less than I had proposed, but I quickly found work. After about six months, my employer approached me about combining my position with a departing coworker’s. Even though we were talking about eliminating an entire position, I had to fight like hell for a reasonable salary. I got so deep into the weeds with corporate, at one point, I noted their payroll tax liability would be cut in half. Later on, I worked at a company with a miserly paid time off policy. There were many weeks I stayed home with my sick daughter that I took home short checks. When I left that position, I again had to haggle to get a week’s vacation time paid out. I see more clearly now, the ways I was nickel-and-dimed, because my current employer has strict and transparent compensation schedules and pro-family leave polices.
Any time I had to negotiate, it felt like breaking a natural law. It made me feel uncomfortable and presumptuous, to stand in front of my employers and plead a case for my worth. I grew up in an Appalachian diaspora community near Dayton where we mistrust ambition and self-promotion. People from low prestige communities (mine, immigrant communities, communities of color) are less likely to advocate for themselves, women even less so. My mother’s parents discouraged her from going to college. She went anyway. It tied my stomach up in knots. I negotiated anyway. I am certain we are outliers.
There are women working in Columbus right now who do not know their value as employees. If an employer exploits that by chiseling female workers, it may boost the bottom line but it perpetuates mechanisms of oppression. April 4 is Equal Pay Day, and in Columbus, women earn 78 cents on the dollar (the national average is 81 cents).
Mayor Ginther and the Columbus Women’s Commission are committed to moving the needle on the gender pay equity gap. Recently, the City Council announced a more generous paid leave policy, in part, to inspire Columbus employers to pursue policies that engage with the realities of modern, urban family life.
In the past, the “family” was a two-parent household headed by a male breadwinner. In the past, labor negotiations – hiring, firing, promotion, benefits – were framed as clashes of power. If this dynamic cannot adapt by becoming more intersectional, more collaborative, then women will keep making cents on the dollar and disempowered people will keep losing out. On this Equal Pay Day, I ask Columbus employers to think about power in their workplaces: Who has it? How is it accrued? What is its currency? These conversations may be difficult, but at this moment in history, we are called to undertake the dialogues which make us most uncomfortable. The time for looking away is over.