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Womxn: Know your worth at work 

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Recently, I asked my 13-year-old daughter, “What do you know about equal work for equal pay?”

She answered, “It’s the idea that you should get the same amount of money if you do the same work.”

“Who experiences injustice around this?” I pressed.

Without hesitation, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Womxn. And folks of color.”

Curious about how she arrived at her conclusion, I said, “Why is that?”

Firm in her conviction, she continued, “Because of men, white men.”

Not remembering us previously having an official conversation about pay injustices, it was amazing to me that she intuitively understood the world she is inheriting. As a young womxn of color, who is also “differently abled,” that’s knowledge that will help her navigate a world that still operates based on patriarchal gender roles.

Several years ago, I worked as a licensed insurance producer for a major insurance company. I started the position as a temp and was eventually hired on full-time, with the understanding that I would direct all outreach marketing and social media efforts.

It was my first major gig and, needless to say, I was super excited to have the opportunity, even though I was only paid a few dollars over minimum wage per hour plus commission.

My white, male boss also asked me to clean the office on weekends.

Years went by, and I was the only employee in a white-dominated office that was asked to clean. I continued to fulfill all my extra roles, with seemingly little chance for advancement, but I became resentful.

When I was let go, it didn’t feel like the worst thing that could have happened  — I knew I wasn’t appreciated. At the time, I just didn’t have the courage or the support to address it. Plus, I didn’t feel like speaking out would make a difference.

Looking back, I think about how easy it is for a womxn of color to feel powerless to change injustices in her life, whether in the home or the workplace. That’s why I was so impressed with an incredible young woman I met in 2016.

Favorite Iradukunda is from Rwanda, a country that in 2018 ranked sixth on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (the U.S. ranked 51st). The index’s best score (gender parity) is 1. Some 70 percent of the survivors of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide were womxn. And it was womxn — not the men who had led a slaughter of 500,000 to 1 million people — who rebuilt the country. Along the way, Rwanda created policies to guarantee the rights of womxn in all areas.

Iradukunda is a doctoral student in nursing and a 2015-16 Global Health Corps Fellow. She came to the United States to finish her education with plans to return to Rwanda to instruct nursing students and build research partnerships to combat nutrition problems in her home country.

She feels the responsibility for continuing to rebuild her country rests on her shoulders; her future is not her own. Marriage and children come second to her duty to her country.

The U.S. may not be Rwanda, but we can still learn from its example. Does real change only come by force? Or can we make our country a better place simply by opening our doors and giving womxn the chance at leadership that they deserve?

April 2 marked another “Equal Pay Day” — the day that the average womxn will have made the same amount as the average man got paid the previous year. (See “Show us the money” p. 17.) For womxn of color, Equal Pay Day (which is in comparison to an average white man) comes even later in the year — stretching all the way out to Nov. 20 for Latinas.

Yet womxn continue to improve every sector of the economy. And Pew Research Center data show womxn have reached a milestone: 29.5 million womxn in the labor force have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 29.3 million men. Womxn age 25 and older also make up more than half of the college-educated workforce.

Womxn, it’s time for each of us to understand our worth, and demand that our employers take notice.

I’m encouraged to know that while my daughter understands the odds against her, she also fiercely values her talents, intellect, education and experience. She has a confidence I didn’t possess at her age, and she will bring it to whatever field she chooses.

My daughter, and your daughters, will not settle for anything less but to be truly valued.

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