A new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) comes just in time for graduation season and the new jobs our graduates are lining-up. On Pay Equity Day last Tuesday (April 24), the AAUW study revealed this outrageous statistic: within one year of graduation, women college graduates are earning 20 percent less than their male counterparts! This is a stunner. In spite of generations of women’s advocacy to narrow the pay equity gap (in general, women earn about 77% of men’s pay for the same work), the gap remains even among highly educated women compared to men with the same education in the same lines of work.
Among other findings, the AAUW study indicates that part of the problem may be found in the reluctance of many women to negotiate salaries. Of course, that sounds like blaming the victim — if the conditions for such blatant discrimination already exist, women’s ability to ask for fair pay may well be compromised by a workplace environment that sends a subtle (or not so) message that she should just be grateful for what she gets. Another factor that’s not discussed in the study is the fact that a large number of the women graduating from college today are already in the workforce — adult women account for a large part of the female majority in higher education today — and so they are likely to be starting from positions of considerable inequality from the outset. These are women who return to college often to leverage the lifelong process of improving their economic condition. Gains do not come overnight, particularly for women who are also raising families along, supporting elder parents, and coping with other life challenges.
Explanations of the data aside, the study is a call to action. Trinity Women, of course, are never shy — and are likely to be in the vanguard of advocates for improvements in the conditions of women in all of the workplaces they inhabit. So, to all of Trinity’s new graduates, heed the call: don’t be shy about money when that offer comes for your new/next job! Learn the facts about the pay grades for the position, and what men in comparable positions in the company are paid. Be firm about what you are worth — and if you are reasonable, your new employer will respect your self-confidence. If not, would you really want to work there? In the Washington region in particular, the demand for educated workers is so great that you will surely get other offers. Don’t accept discrimination as a necessary condition of life — the economic condition of women and families will only improve if all of us raise our voices at every opportunity.