Why Explaining Equal Pay EARLY Empowers Girls

Illana Raia
Apr 10, 2018 · 4 min read
Image via Unsplash

Word Problem: If Jack and Jill work the same number of hours each week, and Jill makes 80 cents for every dollar Jack makes, how far into the next week must Jill work to equal Jack’s earnings from the previous week? How does your answer change depending on Jill’s race, age or education? Show your work.

Um, wait…WHAT?


As early as middle school, the math just doesn’t make sense. If Jack and Jill do the same job under the same circumstances, why isn’t Jill’s work worth the whole dollar? And why are some of Jill’s friends making even less? Jill and her friends are good at math. Jill and her friends are pissed.

We know.

This is called the gender pay gap — and working women want to break it down for you. You’re hearing a lot about Equal Pay Day right now, and it’s a day traditionally observed on a Tuesday in April to mark how far into the next work week (and into the next year) women have to work to match the earnings of male co-workers.

Yep, not a great holiday…but super important to understand. Because even though the math seems blindingly simple, the issue is complicated. And worth examining early.

So, let’s take a look.

First of all, it’s true. On average, women make 80 cents for every dollar a man in the same job makes, and it’s ok to feel outraged about that. The crucial words here are on average — the numbers can vary depending on race, age, geographic location and more, and that means it can actually be worse for women of color. This handy infographic from our role models at Ellevate spells out the differences in emoji-speak, and we’re feeling the forehead slaps.

So yes, it’s wrong and you don’t need to be a grown up to see the injustice. But before you make posters on the back of your math quiz and plaster your locker, take a breath. This is a highly nuanced issue and smart girls examine all the data. Like any math problem, there are variants that need to be considered.

Seriously, what? What could possibly justify this kind of disparity?

Well, choices. Some assert that because women make different life choices than men (like whether to have children, whether to stay home or for how long), their pay can reflect those choices.

Also, the types of jobs pursued. Some argue that because more men secure jobs in high-paying fields like technology or engineering, their earnings will necessarily exceed those of women who go into lower paying fields.

Finally, unwillingness to push for salary raises. Some contend that women are less inclined to advocate for themselves when discussing salaries, so maybe they don’t get the increases their male counterparts get.

OK, so now Jill and her friends are standing ON their desks and speaking passionately about gender bias, childcare penalties and flat-out workplace discrimination.

Make room on your desks — we hear you. But there is some good news.

To start, excellent rebuttals to these arguments can be found here. Moreover, state and federal laws exist to protect women from true gender discrimination in the workplace, and new laws are being proposed to further close the gap. Also, more girls are taking STEM classes (looking at you, math whizzes), and that means more women going into tech and engineering jobs. See, the gap just closed a bit more.

And maybe most importantly, the world is paying attention. Raising awareness for equal pay in the era of #MeToo and alongside actresses like Ellen Pompeo and athletes like USA soccer player Carli Lloyd is forcing people to take notice.

You are coming of age in an undeniable groundswell of activism and energy and — if you look through your history books — that’s when meaningful change usually happens.

So what can YOU do to ensure that by the time you and Jill are sitting in your offices your paychecks look like Jack’s?

Become informed. Read what smart women at Ellevate, LeanIn, Ellevest and EY are saying about the issue and follow #EqualPayDay and #GenderPayGap on social.

Stay aware. Watch youth-focused videos on the topic, and show this one to your younger siblings. When you get your first job, find out what workers around you earn. It’s not rude…it’s relevant.

Pay is a complex issue. But equality is simple.

And hard work and fairness matter.

Girls, you can do any job you put your mind to. It’s our job to make sure the whole dollar is waiting for you when you get there.

Illana Raia

Written by

Lawyer | Lecturer | Founder of Etregirls.com — Smart resources for world-changing girls

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