Equal Pay Day Q and A: Bey-Ling ShaApril 13, 2011
Bey-Ling Sha, a professor at San Diego State University, talked with us this week about her experiences with workplace discrimination and her passion for women’s issues. Sha and other esteemed speakers joined us at AAUW’s Equal Pay Day panel in Washington, D.C., Monday to kick off our Equal Pay Day advocacy.
Have you ever faced discrimination in the workplace?
I used to work for a federal government agency where a man who had been there a shorter time than me and who had a lower level of education than I did was promoted before me. Was it intentional discrimination? I don’t know. Did it feel discriminatory to me? Yes.
Tell us about the first time you negotiated your own salary.
I asked for only $2,000 more than the starting offer, and I got it. But I should have asked for way more than that. Little did I realize that my subsequent raises would be percentage increases based on that initial hiring salary!
What hopes do you have for the next generation of women?
I hope that the next generation of women and men won’t even have to worry about salary negotiations, that equitable salaries will be taken for granted because they have become the norm, not the exception.
If you could meet any famous woman, who would you meet and why?
I would love to meet Marie Curie. She made amazing contributions to science while raising a family with her husband and research collaborator, Pierre. She won two Nobel Prizes — in both physics and chemistry — and yet the French Academy of Sciences refused to elect her as a member because she was a woman.
How did you get involved in this issue, and what are your future plans?
I got into research on the gender pay gap in public relations because my women mentors in the professoriate put me on the National Committee on Work, Life, and Gender for the Public Relations Society of America. Today, I chair the committee, and I inherited the legacy of gender research that is part of the committee’s ongoing work. My goal is to be a responsible steward of the research until I can pass on the legacy to a next-generation scholar on the committee.
What’s the most striking statistic or story you’ve heard about the pay gap?
Early research on the pay gap in public relations estimated that there was a $1 million penalty over the course of a career for being a woman and not a man. I’m sure that this figure would be much higher today, adjusted for inflation and longer lifespans.
What are your thoughts on the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case?
Personally, I love David-versus-Goliath-type stories. If the plaintiffs actually manage to win this case, it will be a huge wake-up call to corporate America that gendered pay inequities — in any field — will no longer be tolerated.