Views / Opinion

Women have enough to do, we can’t fix wage inequality alone, too

A Winnipeg woman's experience with SkipTheDishes shows there is much to be done before we are paid fairly.

It should not just be on women to do the asking, but also on companies to offer, writes Vicky Mochama.

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It should not just be on women to do the asking, but also on companies to offer, writes Vicky Mochama.

If you’re a young woman or a woman of colour, you’re apparently never supposed to ask about money for work you do.

The Winnipeg-based food delivery company Skip the Dishes got into trouble when a prospective employee shared emails showing the company had cancelled her second interview after she asked about pay and benefits. The interviewee, Taylor Byrnes, actually apologized at the same time she asked, saying, “Sorry, I just thought I should ask now.” (The company has since apologized and offered Byrnes the second interview.)

It’s not just entry-level office jobs that don’t want to pay women for their labour.

The Next Web, a tech conference held in Amsterdam this year, sent out offers for speakers including Luvvie Ajayi, a New York Times bestselling author whose book is being turned into a TV show by Shonda “I Own Primetime TV” Rhimes.

Ajayi’s speaking agent was told that the conference, which nets millions in sponsorships, didn’t have a budget for speakers. If she could just bounce over to Amsterdam for free, that’d be great. Ajayi turned them down.

More Views from Vicky:

Being a working woman is exhausting for many reasons: tights are a scam invented by Big Pantyhose, having to hold back screams when men say your own ideas back to you and well, that whole sexual harassment thing. But one of the most exhausting things, aside from the actual work itself, is knowing that money you’ve earned is being kept from you.

In Byrnes’ case, the company initially said that even asking about money “at such an early stage” showed that her “priorities are not in sync with those of SkipTheDishes.”

In the Lean In school of feminism, women are told that they’re not asking for enough money (we’re not), and that there’s some magical combination of ways to ask successfully.

The reality is that by attrition and by opacity, women are not being compensated for their labour. We see this most starkly in industries that are most often dominated by women like nursing, caregiving and retail. Women also make up a majority of part-time and low-income work.

It should not just be on women to do the asking, but also on companies to offer.

Income transparency is one way to put a little more equity into the workforce. Three Nordic countries — Norway, Sweden and Finland — all have a version of income transparency that allows citizens to see each other’s tax records. You want to know what your colleague makes? Google it, then negotiate.

Along with other public policy fixes such as non-transferable paid paternity leave (dads must pay their dues in the diaper mines), and gender quotas in public institutions, women in the Nordic countries are much less likely to be shortchanged for their work.

The work that women do is invaluable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying for.

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