By Alicia Fiorino*
When I arrived at Baruch College for the Equal Pay Coalition’s  Annual Forum, “The Time is Now: Forging a Stronger Economic Future for Women ,” I asked an older security guard for directions to the event. He kindly gave me directions then asked, “What’s the forum all about?” I gladly responded, “Equal pay for women.” Shocked by my response, he said, “What?! Women still don’t get paid the same amount as men?!”
As a graduate student, researcher, and feminist, one of the main issues I grapple with isn’t necessarily my habit of procrastinating or trying to find time for yoga (although those concerns are definitely on my mind). Something I constantly think about is how can I make the issues I’m passionate about (feminism, equal opportunity) accessible to members of all communities, not only those within academia. After all, these issues are relevant to all women.
The Equal Pay Coalition’s event echoed my sentiment. The four panelists spoke on the shifting role of women as breadwinners in nearly half of the families in the U.S. and how institutions within the U.S. have not adapted or recognized this in policy and law. Only 20.7% of women living in the U.S. have a “traditional” family structure, with a working father and stay-at-home mother, compared to 44.7% of the population in 1975. Clearly there has been a change in the way women live, but the glass ceiling is still supported by institutional biases.
The panel suggested a few remedies:
- women need to learn how to negotiate their salary,
- women should join together and contact their local, state and federal representatives to advocate for equal pay and equal opportunity
- and lastly, maintain the momentum that has recently been ignited in the equal pay policy, legal and activist circles.
The thought of salary negotiation seemed to make the audience nervous. The fear is, what if I attempt to negotiate and lose my job? One of the panelists, Donna Sims Wilson , made it very clear that if a woman is contributing to her workplace but not receiving fair pay, not only should she address this issue with the leaders of the organization and negotiate her salary, but perhaps she should consider taking a job somewhere that actually does value her work and pays her accordingly. Donna also discussed how confidence and educational credentials aided in her ability to transition to and from places of employment. Education is an excellent way to prepare people in all social classes to articulate and operationalize their self-worth and to ensure their knowledge of legal mandates.
The panel’s discussion was enlightening and prompted me to ask: how can the importance of women’s equal pay be messaged so that it reaches beyond the walls of Baruch College so that all women and men work actively toward real equality?
Women’s rights for equal pay did not end in 1963; it’s time to get the word out.
*Alicia Fiorino is currently a communications intern at the National Council for Research on Women and a development intern at the Dumbo Arts Center. She is completing her Master’s thesis, which focuses on women and public space, at Dartmouth College. Alicia lives in New York City.