The Only Pay Gaps I’ve Ever Experienced Have Been Self-Inflicted

 

 Photo courtesy of steelashan

Photo courtesy of steelashan

During President Obama’s State of the Union Speech, he stated that “a woman deserves equal pay for  equal work”, vowing to support policies that “level the playing field” for men and women. He even  threw in a little “Mad Men” reference for good measure. A commonly-cited number is that women who  work full time make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns working full time. On the surface, that sounds  terribly unfair, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.

My high school English teacher often said, “Write what you know”, so I intend to do just that. In my  experience, the only pay gaps I’ve ever encountered have been self-inflicted, and even those have been  few and far between. I’ve never worked a job alongside a man doing the same job and found him to be  making more money than I was. Ever.

Photo courtesy of Kamal H.

Photo courtesy of Kamal H.

Upside of my waitressing  jobs: I can still carry a heavy tray with one hand, like a boss.

Back in high school, my first job was as a waitress at a truck stop diner. We were paid minimum wage –the real minimum wage, not “waitress minimum wage”–which was at the time around $4.50 as   memory serves. Because we were paid the minimum wage, everyone made the same amount, male  or female. If anything, given it was a truck stop diner attached to a hotel where many truckers and  construction workers stayed for days or weeks on end, the female waitresses often got more tips than  the male servers. In subsequent jobs during college, I worked as a gas station attendant (fun and we  got free pop while we worked which was a bonus for a broke college kid), a server at more upscale  restaurant , and a teacher at a child care center. In every case I made the same as my male counterparts.  The only thing that stands out at all is that at the upscale restaurant, we got that horrid servers’  minimum wage which was around $2.49. Still, that was the same wage for both genders.

Perhaps these aren’t the kind of jobs people worry about when they talk wage gap. Perhaps they mean  professional jobs/careers after college, although I’d argue many men and women don’t go to college  so it doesn’t apply to everyone. In my case, I graduated from college with a degree in education. I’ve  taught school in five states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Idaho) and in every case, our salary  was set by the district. There has always been a predetermined salary schedule with rows and columns  based on years of teaching experience and level of continued education (Bachelor’s, Master’s, etc.)  so that men and women with the same level of education and experience were always paid the same  salary. There was never any negotiation because the salary schedule was set and approved by the school  board; no wage gap there. When I wasn’t teaching school I worked as a Director of Education at two  different Sylvan Learning Centers in two different states. Both franchises had only female Directors at  their various franchisee locations, so there was no way to know if a man would be paid more. The only  discrepancy I ever saw was that women who took time off for maternity leave or other family leave  didn’t earn the same type of quarterly bonus as the rest of us. However, that seemed quite fair to me  because bonuses were calculated based on sales and enrollment numbers hit during each quarter  by each director, and if a director was out for six-twelve weeks, they weren’t likely to hit the same  numbers within their centers. Maybe some would point to the fact that education tends to be a female-dominated career field, which is why I haven’t experienced the discrepancy. Some would argue that  men don’t go into education because there isn’t any money in it, and that women “settle” for these  lower-paying careers. I disagree.

 

Photo courtesy of Terren in Virginia

Photo courtesy of Terren in Virginia

Kids  are my business--literally.

I went into teaching with eyes wide open. I was a National Merit Scholar in high school; three different  colleges offered me full ride scholarships to study whatever I wanted. Because I spoke another language  (Spanish) and expressed an interest in linguistics/intelligence, I met with representatives from the Air  Force Academy, the FBI and the CIA. All told me I had options and could ‘go places’ with them. While the  thought of being a superspy traveling the globe held definite appeal, in my gut I knew I wanted to be a  wife and a mother, and those things didn’t jibe with being called upon to travel to a foreign locale for  any amount of time with little advance notice. So, I turned away from those offers and went to a small  college majoring in education and minoring in Spanish. Looking back, I have no regrets. I was a wife for  many years and enjoyed it, and definitely want to be married again. Being a mother has been the best  job of my life by far; as a teacher I have the same schedule as my children and I am always home for  holidays, weekends and summers. I don’t miss anything, which for me makes up for the low salaries  teachers earn. Nobody forced me into a female-heavy career field. I chose it for myself and it has been  the perfect fit for me, even more so now that I’m a single mom and need to be more available for my  kids.

Speaking of being a mom, there have been years where I did not work outside the home at all, where  I chose to be a full-time mom. The salary is terrible–as in, nonexistent–but the benefits are amazing.  When I lived in Southern California I had ten glorious months with my then two-year-old son where we  could go to the park, the arboretum, Disneyland…anywhere we wanted whenever we wanted. Or we  could stay home and snuggle and play with his train set. When my daughter was born we lived in Kansas  City and I took another eighteen months to stay home. Playing with the kids, walking in our pasture  and the timber behind our house, and helping my husband with our small herd of show cattle was a joy  and I am ever thankful for that time. Again, many question why it is so often the mom who stays home  with the kids, sacrificing her career while the man ‘gets’ to go to work. That wasn’t my experience at all.  My ex-husband and I relocated eight times during our marriage; each time was for a promotion or job  change that moved him up the ladder and allowed me the privilege of being a full-time mom for both of  our kids. Many view that as me giving up my dreams and aspirations so he could pursue his. In reality it  was almost the reverse; he got up and went to work every single day so that I could have my dream of  being home with my children. We may not be together anymore but I am still grateful to him for that.

Again, looking back through my life I have never experienced a pay gap, let alone one that was gender-based. Any lack of income on my part was by choice. I selected a lower-paying career field because it  allowed me time with my family; I chose to make no money as a full-time mom because that is what I  wanted to do. If I had it to do over again I would, and have never felt my income was determined by my  gender, but rather by my choice.