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  • JoAnna Springsteen

Equal pay: Why is it hard?

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

I have worked in IT for about 20 years now. I started as a Technical Writer, moved to a Business Analyst role, and eventually got into the Scrum Master/Delivery Lead space. It's an entirely uncommon career trajectory for a lot of people. I've had the opportunity to work with some really fantastic men, women, and non-binary folks over the years. We've all learned from each other and shared a lot of similar experiences. In some ways you could even say we've had damn near the same career path and trajectory.

When I was fresh in my career, in my 20's, I worked hard and long hours. More has always been expected from me because I remain unmarried and without children. I make sure I checked all the boxes. I kept receipts - had spreadsheets of every compliment, achievement, praise, email, you name it. To this day, this is still a habit I have - because I have to if I want to be paid like my male counterparts.

I have a friend, who happens to be male and has had an incredibly similar career path to me. Heck, we met while working at the same company. Over the years, we've both gone between contracting and full time in similar roles. We've gotten similar certifications, attended similar conferences, achieved similar credentials all around the same time. He and I have very different styles and approaches to problems. I'm glad that I can call him a friend and have open conversations about controversial topics.

One of the topics that's come up time and time again - any time we switch jobs - is salary. We're very transparent about what we make with one another because frankly, if your friends won't tell you what the going market rate is for a job, who will? Time and time again, I always find myself making less than he does. Sometimes it's by a few dollars an hour, sometimes it's by significant chunks of money, sometimes it's extra PTO or other perks. Only once in my career have I made more than him. It didn't last very long but I savored that moment.

One of the privileges of being a coach and mentor to people is that folks will come and ask you for advice. I've had several developers come to me over the years and ask me what they should be making. And I've been shocked in both how much more and how much less some make.

I can say from personal anecdotal data that women, minorities, and especially minority women make way less money. IT follows the national trend of (white) women making about 80% on the dollar of what men do. (Fun fact, in the Des Moines, Iowa area, it's 84%, according to the Pew Research Center.) The good news is that percent has started to level out. The bad news is that it's not getting higher. The worse news is that if you are a BIPOC woman, that rate is even lower: $0.63 on the dollar for Black women and $0.58 for Latina women.

Every job I take I negotiate for more than what I want. Every year, regardless of where I am working, I ask for a raise. I know my worth and add tax.

I am damn good at what I do. Employers and recruiters seek me out, specifically, because I am the one for the job. Every job I take I negotiate for more than what I want. Every year, regardless of where I am working, I ask for a raise. I know my worth and add tax. As much as I love my career, I'm not a volunteer - I've got bills to pay and hungry, furry mouths to feed.

I can't even count the number of employers over my career that have shamed me for asking for more money, even after presenting them with statistics that I am under paid for my title and in this specific job market. There's always an excuse - well you didn't go above and beyond, you only met expectations so no raise for you. Or employers that grapple for excuses when it comes to handing out raises - "I only have so much budget for raises and this other person [a man] did better than you" or " We really had higher hopes for what you'd achieve so we just can't justify a raise."

So what do we do about it? Most folks of all genders agree Equal Pay is a Good Thing. It's the law of the land, after all. But we can't seem to get there as a society.

There's always an excuse: Well you didn't go above and beyond; you only met expectations so no raise for you.

Here's my advice:

  1. Know your worth. Then add tax. - this isn't my saying but I live by it. Do your research. Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or your friendly neighborhood recruiter are usually more than happy to tell you what they are seeing on the market right now for any given role.

  2. Be Transparent - Talk to your co-workers and peers in the IT community. Don't be afraid to share what you're making with other people who have the same or similar roles as you. In one case, this was the only way I found out I was being under paid by about $20k. I would not have known had I not talked with my friends. No, It's not gossip. No, it's not tacky to talk about money.

  3. Advocate for Equal Pay - You can do this however you feel comfortable. Talk to your boss. Talk about it in Employee Resource groups. Talk about it in communities of practice. When you interview for jobs, ask what their policy is, especially if it isn't on their website or job application materials. Sure, they may say they're an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE), but do their salaries reflect that? If you know for sure someone in the same role at the same company is making a certain rate, ask for that. And if they come back and say no, call them out on it - ask why.

  4. Negotiate - Always ask for more than what you want. Always. Period. Even if you think it's too much. Even if your research shows that it's above market rate. The worst that can happen is they say no and come back with what you actually want to be paid. When you get paid more, you're raising the bar for others to get paid more.

  5. Employer pay scale - As an employer, have a clearly defined path to promotional raises, yearly cost of living raises, commissions, and any other ways that your employees can potentially earn more money. Make yourself accountable for applying this policy equally across all employees. Make sure your budgets for the year reflect pay increases. And make sure you include contractors in that budget as well.

I will 100% admit that most of the advice above are things that I have learned by specifically following BIPOC women online. Women of color have had to fight longer and harder to get equal pay. They have done the work, they have fought the fight, and are out on these LinkedIn feeds giving advice openly and freely.

It's gross we had to have something in the law that requires us to pay humans equally. It's even more disgusting that 60 years have gone by and we're still not there yet.

Have I followed this advice? Yes, absolutely.

Does it work? Yes, absolutely.

Am I still privileged because I am a white cis woman and I don't have to fight as hard for Equal Pay? Yes, absolutely.

The Equal Pay Act has been around since 1963. Personally, I think it's gross we had to have something in the law that requires us to pay humans equally. It's even more disgusting that 60 years have gone by and we're still not there yet.

So what are you doing as an employer, as an employee to get us to equality?

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