Being a Top Earner Didn’t Stop This Woman from Being Forced out of Finance
Every year, Jane cringes when she sees her former employer listed once again as one of the best 100 companies for working mothers. The Fortune 500 financial services company had paid her a small fraction of what it paid her male colleagues, justifying it partially because she might get pregnant.
When she graduated from business school, Jane entered her field with optimism. She had grown up in a family of real estate professionals and had always been good with numbers. So it made sense to get educated in finance so she could use her skills and interests to evaluate big real estate deals for investment firms.
“I realized that a lot of decisions in this world come down to numbers and how you evaluate things. In the business world, it’s about understanding value and making a profit,” says Jane, who asked us to use a pseudonym to protect her identity. “I really wanted to understand that more and felt like I could contribute in that field.”
Jane spent the first few years of her career appraising multi-million dollar properties, such as malls and office buildings. She was interested in using that experience to move into lending, determining for a bank which deals were worthwhile and which weren’t. She asked her employer if she could start pursuing her own loan deals and building a client base to become a loan originator, with encouragement from two supervisors who saw her potential. Without any of the training or resources that her colleagues (all men) got when they were recruited as loan originators, within a year Jane became the third highest sales-producing person in the country for the company.
Everything was looking great until one of her encouraging supervisors approached her after two years of Jane’s success. He said, “Do you realize you’re making less than all of us, and you’re bringing in more deals than most of us?” Jane found out that she was making 30 percent of what her colleagues were making, even though she outranked most by multiple measures: experience, education, or sales. He gave her advice on how to bring up the discrepancy to their managers.
“At first I thought this must be an oversight and shouldn’t be a difficult thing to correct. I didn’t think it was going to be as big a deal as it became,” she said.
After a casual phone call and e-mail to her supervisor, Jane got a call that changed the course of her career. It was an executive who gave Jane a litany of excuses about why she couldn’t be paid fairly for her work.
“She said that I’m of child-bearing age, and they don’t want to invest in me because I could go on maternity leave and leave them in a lurch,” Jane said. The executive happened to know that Jane’s husband was also in finance, so another excuse was that Jane’s husband should be the high wage-earner and she should dial back her ambition. The executive said she has never seen a woman succeed in that job and insinuated that Jane must be doing something inappropriate to get such good sales numbers. “Ultimately, she pointed a finger at me saying I was rocking the boat, and I was strongly encouraged to leave the company or they would let me go,” said Jane.
The conversation left Jane “flabbergasted” and in shock. “I didn’t think those things should be said to a woman in 2013 or ever,” she said. After talking to her family and attorneys, Jane was advised that since nothing was in writing, it would be difficult to take legal action. The company gave her three months to resign, so she saved as much as she could (and was treated like a pariah by her colleagues) before quitting and going on a five-week soul-searching trip abroad.
Now happily working in nonprofit fundraising, Jane knows her life will never be the same, partially because her eyes have been completely opened to the issue of pay discrimination. “When I graduated from business school, I was bright-eyed and ready to conquer the world. I had no idea that barriers still existed for women in the workplace. I thought we took care of that in the ‘70s,” she said.
Jane says she never even had a vocabulary to describe what happened to her until she started researching the issue and found AAUW. A friend and mentor told her that AAUW was the thought leader when it came to pay equity. Since then, Jane has been inspired by AAUW’s work and even went through some salary negotiation training. “I believe AAUW will always be a part of my life moving forward,” Jane says.
Jane hasn’t started a family with her husband yet, but she plans to and still worries about how employers react to young women and to mothers, because of how she was treated before. She recommends reaching out to women mentors for strategies and likes the website InHerSight.com for employee reviews of companies’ true friendliness to working women.
“If anything about this can help women not be as naïve as I was and help them face big battles, that would be great,” says Jane.
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