Equal Pay Day Q and A: Lisa Frehill

April 08, 2011

Lisa M. Frehill, the director of research, evaluation, and policy at the National Action Council for Minorities in EngineeringLisa M. Frehill, the director of research, evaluation, and policy at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, talked with us last week about her experiences with workplace discrimination. Join Frehill and other esteemed speakers at AAUW’s Equal Pay Day panel on Monday, and remember that Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 12!


Have you ever faced discrimination in the workplace?


Yes. I started as an engineer in 1980. There was daily sexual harassment on the factory floor, but once I got accustomed to that, it was just “noise,” but I can now see that it could have deterred women from working as engineers at that plant. That actually bothered me less than knowing that I was given different assignments and different pay than equally qualified men. The subtle discrimination was far more problematic than the overt stuff. And when I entered academic employment, even though I was in a field with a lot of women, the different treatment of women and men was clear. Men were permitted more leeway to do things like not hold office hours, treat people badly, and teach poorly, whereas these offenses for women were not tolerated.

Tell us about the first time you negotiated your own salary.


When I took my first academic job, I had been told to negotiate salary. So when the department head called and made an offer, I immediately countered, and he pretty much chilled me out and said there was not any more money for salary. He basically closed the negotiation before it could even start. After I ran a program about increasing women’s participation in academia and learned more about gender differences in negotiation, I refused to let others shut me down so early in the process. I now negotiate all the time and have been quite successful.

What hopes do you have for the next generation of women?


That they will live in a world where you don’t have to negotiate for the things that you should rightfully be provided to perform your job well, [that] an employer will make sure that the resources necessary to perform work will be provided without the individual having to beg.

How did you get involved in this issue, and what are your future plans?


I have long known that engineering is one of the few disciplines where women could make good money right out of college. And I have long been interested in the issues that face women economically due to their segregation into low-paying jobs. Engineering is an important job in terms of its content and the decent salaries earned but also because engineers eventually move up in organizations. That is, if we look at the top of companies, there are many that have engineers in the boardroom … so if we want to get women into powerful positions, engineering is an avenue to that. And if we want women to be in positions where they can make decent money, engineering is a place to be for that too.

What’s the most striking statistic or story you’ve heard about the pay gap?


That Wal-Mart [allegedly] engages in regular discrimination against women and that there is a possibility that the women who have filed a lawsuit may form a class … against Wal-Mart, which is the largest employer in the world.

If you had to choose a pay equity theme song, what would it be?


“Money” by Pink Floyd!

More Equal Pay Day Q and A:  Angela Stevenson Deborah FrolingBey-Ling Sha

Rachel Wallace By:   |   April 08, 2011

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