Retirement Tough after $200,000 Lost to Gender Pay Gap

Elena Noble stands outside with a house in the background.

Elena Noble

May 21, 2013

Elena Noble found that her years of volunteer leadership at an elementary school didn’t matter as much as her gender in determining her salary when she became a teacher.

As a stay-at-home mom, Noble had volunteered at her kids’ elementary school’s library, nursery school, drug-free program, and more. She knew the school’s leaders and had credibility within the district. When she was in her late 30s, she decided to go back to school to get her teaching credentials.

The credentials class was all women except for one man who came and went in classes or never showed up, Noble said. Yet he was the only one of the roughly 30 students who had a job lined up when the class began. That job was at the school where Noble had volunteered.

“He told us that he had previous experience, so that’s why he got hired,” Noble said. “Yet my experience far outweighed what he did.”

The man had gone through deputy sheriff training that counted as his “experience,” Noble said. Plus, she said the district wanted male elementary school teachers.

That same elementary school also hired Noble after the credentials course ended. During new teacher orientation, the man bragged about his salary — almost $9,000 more than Noble and the other new female teachers were making, she said. That $9,000 difference adds up to almost $200,000 over the 22 years Noble taught. She retired five years ago.

“In the end, he will come out with a better retirement. He will come out with obviously more money in his pocket,” Noble said. “It’s a lot of money.”

The school had a salary schedule, but the man started at a much higher salary step because he negotiated, Noble said.

“Even if you’re on a salary schedule and you think it’s fair, it’s how you’re hired,” she said. “He obviously bargained for a higher salary. I didn’t do it. Most women don’t do it. We’re just grateful to have a job.”

Noble said she especially felt the effects of the wage gap when she retired and the stock market fell.

“It’s been a rough go because my retirement money and pension were lower,” she said. “It hurt us. It wasn’t just me. When you don’t get that money you deserve, it does hurt your family.”

Because of what she has gone through, a few years ago a $tart $mart salary negotiation workshop at an AAUW National Convention caught her eye. (Check out the $tart $mart facilitator training at this year’s convention.) Noble now serves as a regional field manager for $tart $mart, which trains college women to negotiate their salaries.

During the trainings she leads, Noble tells the women not to overlook volunteer hours.

“I tell the girls, ‘Add that up,’” she said. “That is time on the job.”

$tart $mart offers several opportunities to get involved: Find a site near you, “like” the program on Facebook, recruit a new campus site, or become a facilitator. But of course the wage gap can’t be fixed entirely by salary negotiation.

AAUW also urges Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a needed update to the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act. While Congress is gridlocked, AAUW is asking President Barack Obama to address part of the Paycheck Fairness Act through an executive order that would ban federal contractors from firing or otherwise retaliating against workers who share salary information and wage practices.

As Noble said, “It’s equal pay for equal work. We’re not asking for extraordinary things here.”

This is the eighth post in AAUW’s series about women’s struggles to receive fair pay. Learn more about the pay gap and join AAUW in the fight for fair pay.

By:   |   May 21, 2013

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