I don't get a lot of the trimmings around Equal Pay Day. I get acknowledging it, protesting for it, lobbying your representative, pushing to hire more women, underrepresented minorities, and the historically marginalized. But I have a big gripe with it:
It's a red herring. Pay equity, while valuable in and of itself, distracts from the larger issue of representation. Guess where we have racial pay equity? The US presidency. Want to get equal pay on a Forbes 500 C-level board? Don't hire any women. It's easy to take a large pool of women in a company, increase their pay by 5-15%, and then let them languish at the entry levels. But having a C-suite that reflects the population? Bringing underrepresented people into proportional representation at all levels of a company? That requires structural change. Representation in tech, for instance, entered the zeitgeist in the last decade. Since then, most major tech companies have achieved something like pay equity. But despite all the hand-wringing over the pipeline, the actual representation numbers have moved exactly zero. Because that's hard to solve. Much harder than pay equity. So, equal pay. Good first step. But just a step.
My second gripe is, of course, that the gaps in pay equity still suck. That it takes until April 10th for women in general, July 31st for black women, September 25th for Native American women, and November 2nd (coincidence, anyone? GOTV!) for Latinas.
I’m lucky, and not in a Jeffersonian, “I make my own luck” way. Math and reading came easily to me, I lived in a decent school district, attended community college when it was still basically free, earned a CS degree without understanding much about its value. And that was a cascade of semi-random events that has allowed me to be one lucky Latina who has vaulted the pay gap.
Neither my path nor anyone else's is wholly reproducible. But I can share a couple things that were within my control and can yield step-function changes.
1) It’s been said before, but: negotiate! Negotiate hard. Never take the first number. Never give the first number. Try (and all you can do is try) to set aside the messages you’ve been receiving since you were small that you’re not good enough. Not worth it. That your partner's income is more important anyway. That you don’t meet 100% of the job description. If you feel like you’re being a bit of a jerk in negotiations, you’re probably doing it right.
2) Find a sponsor. A sponsor is different from a mentor. A mentor will guide you. A mentor is great for an outside perspective. But a sponsor will grab you by the hand and pull you up the ladder. They will lobby for your promotion, connect you with the people who will give you the stretch opportunities, advocate for you, actively. How do you find or identify this person? Sometimes it's a mentor who sees your potential. Often it's a boss you've impressed. But just as often you have to ask. Ask for the connections, ask if they know of any good roles out there. Ask if they feel you're ready for a stretch role. And once you find them, give back, help your sponsor out. Point good candidates their way. Pitch in on their projects. These relationships pay dividends, so invest in them.
Good luck out there.