It is a tough pill to swallow: I have a degree from a four-year university, yet as a woman who works full time, I probably earn substantially less than my male counterparts. For women of color, the pay gap widens — both my gender and my race contribute to a lower probable salary. I cannot help but think of what the pay gap will mean for me and the amount of money that I will not accumulate over the course of my career.
I graduated in 2009, which was not an opportune time to finish an undergraduate program. Several months prior to commencement, I knew I had to avoid the many job rejections that come with the rising national unemployment rate. Instead of jumping into the fray of job seekers, I decided to join a national service program, AmeriCorps. That summer, I moved to Philadelphia to become a tutor, mentor, and community service volunteer. After successfully completing more than 1,700 hours of community service, I moved back home to Alexandria, Virginia, in summer 2010.
It was then that I began my job search, with much apprehension — I knew I would be competing with a new graduating class. I leveraged my networking skills and landed a job as an administrative assistant with a starting salary that was lower than I had hoped for. I felt that I did not know how to negotiate my salary, and although I did some research, I was not confident enough to ask for more.
Even as I signed my offer letter, I knew that my starting salary was contributing to the sad statistic that women, on average, make only 80 percent of what their male counterparts make one year out of college.
Since that experience, I’ve learned my value. Now that I am trying to start my own business, I am learning that it is important, especially as a woman, to not sell myself short. I find myself urging my female friends to aim high, to expect more from themselves and their employers, and to negotiate their salaries to match their value.
The gender wage gap issue isn’t only about earning another 20 cents on the dollar or having a salary that is equitable to that of a man. The issue is my value. As a woman at the start of her career, I find it upsetting that I might not be paid fairly for doing similar work with the same qualifications.
I value myself and the women of my generation, and I hope that we continue to fight for equal pay.
This post was written by former AAUW Media Relations Intern Ijeoma Nwatu. She is a blogger and traveler who writes about her professional journey, business, and female entrepreneurship.