An International Women’s Day Tale about the Wage Gap

There once was a 26 year old woman who had worked in the legal profession for 7 years and had ample amount of experience. Before you start the defense of “maybe he was more qualified,” she also had a double bachelor’s degree from a very reputable local 4 year college.

She was starting law school and willing to take a small cut in pay and benefits for a more laid back work environment. Law school and 10 hour work days do not go together. So she left her well paying job with ample benefits for a smaller firm just getting off the ground. Although at the interview they mentioned they did not offer employer sponsored healthcare, they did not mention that they also did not offer ANY paid time off, ANY short term disability, ANY paid holidays, and they did not discuss pay with her.  A phone call came a week later, they offered her the job, and said they could only afford to pay her $16.00 per hour, she asked if they could get any closer to the $24.00 per hour she was making at her current firm, but they could not. There was little room for negotiation, which often happens even when women attempt to negotiate their salaries. After a little deliberation, she took the pay cut. 

She started at the very small law firm in October.  They had 6 months of backlog work and were facing an audit that required a lot of her very quickly. They had no real internal office organization or file system. She worked hard to clear the back log quickly and began putting system and templates in place to increase efficiency. She continued to contribute to the legal work at the firm and excelled with civil procedure issues (because of the 7 years experience and a year of law school). Then comes Thanksgiving 2 months after she started, and low and behold there is no holiday pay on her check. After 2 months she realized she would not receive ANY holiday pay.

One year later she got a $0.20 raise ($16.20 per hour), but still no holiday pay and no paid time off or sick pay. Being an extremely qualified young lady, she went out to find a new job. After a year and a half at that firm she secured a job at a fortune 500 company in town. When she brought the info to her current place of employment they offered her more UNPAID time off, 5 paid days off, and a $2.80 per hour raise. If you are keeping score that is a now $19.00 per hour 2 years after working at the firm. 

MJH

Fast forward another year and the young lady is set to graduate law school in May 2017. Around October/November 2016 the bosses start asking her for a range that she would be leaving in 2017. Although she was not sure yet, more than 6 months out, she told them February to April. A few weeks later she asks to stay until April, but her bosses TELL her she will actually only be staying until February. Keep in mind they are not technically firing her because they asked for a “range” and their end date is technically in that “range.”

They hire a receptionist/assistant, a second paralegal, a manager, and a third paralegal to replace her. (She did a lot of legal work and office management/accounting.) Then they hire her last paralegal replacement. HE is in his mid 30s, failed/dropped out of his first year of law school, and according to his resume and the bosses, “job hopped for a few years.” He was not open to learning anything about the filing system she created, the sample documents she created and how they worked, the accounting system she created, or even the simple general steps in law firm litigation practice. He was constantly on personal phone calls and just on his phone in general. He rarely paid attention when she spoke to him.

So after training him daily for almost 3 weeks she leaves for a mostly unpaid vacation in January. She comes back to work and the bosses pull her into their office and say that they are letting him go. Very little was actually completed while she was gone, and what did get done, was almost all done incorrectly.  By the end of the week he was fired. As he leaves the office Friday afternoon, in the elevator with all of his former co-workers, he announces that he made $22.00 an hour from the jump. HE WALKED IN TO THE INTERVIEW AND MADE $3.00 MORE AN HOUR THAN THE WOMAN WHO HAD WORKED THERE FOR ALMOST 4 YEARS, and had to find another better paying job to even earn anywhere near that. He made $6.00 an hour more than she made when she started working at that firm. And made $3.00 an hour more than the other female paralegal hired just 6 months before him.

In 2013, women earned 78.3% as much as men (16 and over). Applying those numbers to this story, that would be $17.23, which is within $0.20 of the median hourly wage she received during her 4 years at the firm. 

One of the most common arguments about the gender pay gap, is that it simply does not exist. I have to admit, that even as a woman who marched in Washington, who rallied behind Hillary in the general because we need females in positions of power, who believes in empowering women all over the world, I honestly did not really understand or believe the extent of the wage gap until it happened to me. Until I saw first hand that it is real, and that there is no real and honest justification for it. I do not have children. I do go to grad school part time, which had me in the office for a few hours at times throughout my employment, but also provided so much more for me to offer that firm while working there. The only difference between the two of us was our gender.   

Of course I was angry when I left, angry that they wanted to replace me and give my salary to someone else who had not proved themselves and worked hard day in and day out over the course of 4 years. More than anything I was hurt because I felt worth less.  Worth less than someone who made $3.00 an hour more than me for even just a month there, who in the end could not do even a quarter of the jobs I not only preformed, but was essential in shaping and organizing. The firm took on new clients and grew quickly over the last year, and there is no denying that my organization, hard work, and efficiency was a big part of why they were able to grow as quickly as they did.  But still, my hard work led to his higher pay rate, not my own.

Even in 2017, we have not achieved gender equality, and cannot dismiss or explain away the gender wage gap. Many people, men and women, have tried to justify my personal pay gap, and the pay gap in general, but I hope some of them can see now that woman can do everything perfectly and still make less money than the men around her or hired to replace her. And since the wage gap has consequences not only for our finances, our families, and also for our mental health, we need to stop blaming women for having or even having the potential to have children, or staying home when their kids are sick, or trying to better themselves by pursuing higher education while working, or justifying that men are simply more qualified because of their innate abilities, and start holding companies, the government, and society as a whole accountable.

Miranda Hellman is an educator and soon to be lawyer, as well as a badass take-no-shit feminist. You can follow her here:  Twitter @mira_jo and Instagram @mira_jo215.