Lilly Ledbetter said she found out she was making less than the men she worked with at the Goodyear Rubber & Tire Company after someone dropped her an anonymous note. A friend of mine who for years worked at a progressive nonprofit—one you’ve definitely heard of and probably have warm feelings about!—made the discovery after snooping on a password protected spreadsheet of staff salaries. My story involves considerably less intrigue: I realized I was getting fucked because someone left someone else’s offer letter face up on a table near the water cooler.
Ledbetter sued, my friend negotiated a 20% raise, and I eventually found another job after being told that the most I would earn was still $7,000 less than a guy with the same title because of my salary history. (New York City agencies can no longer ask prospective employees how much they made at their last job for exactly this reason—and a bill to extend this policy to every employer in the city is being considered this week.)
Today is Equal Pay Day, which is meant to mark how far into the year women have to work in order to earn as much as men made in the previous year. Even so, it only always tells part of the story: the symbolic date falls later in the year for black and Latinx women and earlier for women in union jobs, who experience a smaller pay gap than their non-union peers.
Imperfect as it is, it still feels like a good day to ask: How did you find out you were making less?