Fix the System, Not the Women

by Julie Graber | on 16 Jun 2020

Picture me, banging my head against the desk, as I read the headline “Why Women Are Key To Solving The Gender Pay Gap.”

I won’t link the article or call out the author. It was a well-meaning article and good advice for anyone - "focus on what you’ve done vs. what you haven’t...Build a habit of positive self-talk...Use a comprehensive peer group to fairly assess your qualifications."

But if women could fix the gender pay gap all by themselves it would be done. We don’t have time to mess around. We can’t afford what it costs us in lost wages - the groceries we can’t buy, the rent we can’t pay - to say nothing of bonuses and retirement contributions that are based on a percentage of our base pay.

If we could do it all by ourselves, we would. Believe me - we are really good at thinking that we have to do it all - by ourselves - without asking for help. 

So maybe this is where the author was coming from.

And yet the gender pay gap persists: $0.82 on the dollar overall, $.62 for African-American women, and $0.55 for Hispanic/Latinx women in the US (IWPR).

And by suggesting that we can do it all by ourselves by changing who we are is yet another attempt to “fix the women” instead of “fix the system.”

We shouldn’t have to ask to be paid fairly. We shouldn’t have to practice “positive self-talk” when it’s not the way we’re socialized to think about ourselves and the world around us. We shouldn’t have to “fairly assess” our qualifications and contributions - that’s a manager’s job. And if as a manager, who you hear from is all you’ve got to go on to assess individual job performance, maybe you’re in the wrong role at work. 

Women should be able to bring their authentic selves to work, and work should be able to deal with our differences. We won’t reap the benefits of having women at the table if they have to act like men to get there. 

Stop trying to fix the women - fix the systems that put them (and people of color) at a disadvantage. 

Companies are falling all over themselves with commitments to address racial inequality in the way they operate. While they’re at it, they can fix the structural sexism that lives in parallel with systemic racism. If there is one message that should have been received loudly and clearly over the last couple of weeks, it is that African-Americans cannot fix racism by themselves anymore than women can fix sexism alone. 

Do it now, because it’s the right thing to do. Do it every day, not just for the next two weeks. Do it from bottom to top. Do it with us, all of us together. 

Fix the systems.


Tags:  In the NewsPay Gap