Conventional thinking is that women’s lib is a noble cause about allowing women to work and earn equal pay as men. Deciding whether it’s working depends on who you ask. Most women in their forties who have a lot of work experience in the private sector (not government jobs) would probably agree that that was the intent but that it never fully materialized. For example, we still earn approximately fifteen to twenty percent less than our male coworkers for the same positions at the same companies. Also, when the Great Recession began to turn around, ninety percent of new hires were men. It means that when employers were given an enormous pool of job candidates to choose from, they consistently chose men over women.
My own experience was awful. When I was a kitchen designer at The Home Depot (2001-2003) my store set sales quotas based on our ability. The highest quota was $20,000 per week and only three designers were expected to perform at that level, Steve who was paid $23 an hour, David who was paid $20 an hour, and me at $15.81 per hour. It happened again at my next company where I worked as a drafter, Savage Designer Cabinets. There were four drafters and the other three were men, all making approximately $50,000. The department supervisor probably made a bit more. I made $42,000. That’s right. And guess who made the least mistakes? In 15 months I made exactly one mistake on one cabinet, a small bench that stood alone.
The cabinet industry may be that way because it’s male dominated and so I’ll use the accounting industry as another example. In 1997 most accounts payable clerks in the San Francisco Bay Area earned approximately $15 per hour, and I was making $8.75 at a cable company called TCI. Later I ran full cycle A/P at a law firm in downtown San Francisco called Gold Bennett and Cera and they paid me about $12.50, and I had a lot of extra work because I couldn’t get their managers to authorize invoices for payment. (They didn’t have a PO system).
At every company, I had bad days where I went home after my shift and I cried angry tears because I couldn’t get paid and I was living like a starving college student. I remember the time when I couldn’t afford a place to live. I had been working at The Home Depot for about two years and I shared a house with roommates, and then it changed ownership and everyone had to move out. I couldn’t find a room for rent because they were too expensive. I’m serious. I ended up renting a living room in an apartment. My new roommate had a habit of cooking fried chicken which was very noisy and I didn’t have a sound barrier, just a curtain to block the view. That’s how hard my life was. Thank Bob Nardelli, the lowlife CEO who brought General Electric’s ruthless employment practices to The Home Depot.
In the big picture all of my former employers were that way. I never got paid fairly anywhere that I worked, and it had nothing to do with previous experience or job performance or education. I was so frustrated that I wanted to sue them. And I was terrified because I didn’t have any savings. I was sexually harassed by a male supervisor at a few different jobs and I had nowhere to go. Also, I couldn’t afford to save for retirement and my employers never contributed anything.
Is Equal Pay really that difficult to accomplish? Is there some reason why women are still being exploited a half a century after feminism gained traction? Will I keep running into this problem for the rest of my life? If I have a daughter someday will she be exploited too? As a mother will I be forced to monitor her employers to prevent them from sexually harassing her and to force them to pay her fairly? If the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) will be too busy to handle complaints about pay inequality then what will mothers do? Show up at their daughters’ jobs with illegal guns? As in, “Get your hands off of my kid and give her the right paycheck, you unimaginable bastard.”