What happens if you follow all the rules but don’t reap the benefits? What happens when you want your voice to be heard but your “advocates” are not listening to your needs? What happens when you make strides towards your future but feel held back by systemic barriers? This is the experience of Nicole*, an employee of the NYC Department of Transportation. Despite the fact that she has worked for the city since 1984, with every step forward she feels like she is taking two steps back.
Time after time, Nicole was passed over for positions that were given to men, or white women, who in many cases were either unqualified or did not have the same credentials as Nicole. In her position, she has access to payroll and can see the disparities in pay between men, women, and employees of color. As an employee with a graduate degree and many years of experience, she knows she is not receiving the compensation that a person in her position should be receiving. Men, and white women, in the same position as Nicole, are earning more than she is – in some case she is earning $25,000 less than her male counterparts. When asked how this made her feel she simply said “It is unfair.”
Nicole believes that this practice is akin to Jim Crow. She reflected on the stories her mother would tell her about separate facilities for blacks and whites, oppression that is mimicked by the separate pay scales she sees between men and women, and blacks and whites. Over time she has decided not to depend on others to advocate for her and unfortunately she does not see any solidarity between the white and black women employees.
Over the past 33 years, the lack of earnings has forced her to live paycheck to paycheck which has left her little wiggle room for emergencies. On April 4th ,Equal Pay Day, we stand with Nicole, raise our voices with her, and support her fight for equal pay. When asked what equal pay looks to her, Nicole said she believes that if someone is doing the same job as their co-worker, they should be paid the exact amount regardless of race, gender, class, religion, ability or any other difference. Nicole fights against all odds and does her best not let her employers or society discredit her hard work. If she could advise other women in her position she would tell them that “not to give up, continue educating yourself, keep trying to make yourself better.” We whole-heartily agree with you, Nicole, and stand with you for equal pay!
*Disclaimer: Name has been altered to protect the worker
YWCA Brooklyn’s graduate social work interns, Madeline Lucas, Rebecca Telfort, and Zazu Tauber, conducted interviews and wrote the stories of these dynamic and courageous workers as part of our effort to share real life experiences of women in the workplace during Equal Pay Week.