My Experience with the Gender Wage Gap

The gender wage gap. Four words that are so heartbreakingly complex to understand.

Many people think that the gender wage gap refers to women being paid less money than men for working the same job. While this is technically true, reducing the gender wage gap to this definition is like defining a dog as an animal with four legs. You’re missing out on the whole story. The wage gap attempts to explain all of the ways that women make less money than men, including the devaluation of feminine work, gender segregation in jobs, the “mommy tax” and lack of career progression for mothers, and the tendency for men to progress farther and faster than women in the same jobs.

Because this article is about my own experience, I’m not going to open the can of worms that is explaining all of the patriarchal and racist systems of oppression that make up the gender wage gap, although I am tempted to. However, if this concept is new to you, I implore you to read this study that explores the causes of the wage gap in depth.

I started my job as a dance coach at a high school two years ago. I worked with the dancers in the marching band with two other dance coaches and six other staff members, who taught the musicians. Having spent the last eight years as a performer and the last four years as a world class performer at the highest level, earning third, fourth, and fifth place in the world, I knew that I was qualified to educate the high school students in dance. I had worked with other schools before as a choreographer and a director. I had learned from some of the best in the industry, and I was excited to bring some knowledge to this new school.

Because my job as a high school coach is funded by the band program, I’m content with a lower salary. I make less than minimum wage and I’m okay with that. I teach dance because it is a way for me to give back to the activity; it fuels my passion as well as the passion of my students. However, my attitude toward my salary changed when I learned how much my coworkers were making.

My male coworker, who has the same exact title as me, makes six dollars more than me per hour. When I learned this, I was extremely confused. He had been at that school for three years compared to my two years. He and I have the same responsibilities, I might even have slightly more. I attend rehearsals two days a week, compared to his one. When I confronted the director of the program, he stated that I was being paid significantly less because my coworker had been working with the program for longer. I apprehensively accepted this answer, knowing that the difference in pay wasn’t necessarily equal to the reason he provided.

I wasn’t extremely perturbed until I learned how much the rest of the staff was making. The musician staff members, as it turns out, were making over twice what I was making, particularly the drum teachers, comprised of all men. These men were younger and extremely less qualified. Compared to my four years of world class experience, they had three years of high school experience. Some of them had one year of lower class experience, and their teaching methods didn’t contain as much knowledge.

I’m not sure why the director of the program decided to pay these men so much more money than me. It could be because of my gender, or my perceived competence level, or for any number of other reasons. I do know that I am proud of myself for speaking up and asking for what I deserve. And even though I did not get the answer or outcome that I wanted, I learned lessons about my personal value and about speaking up for myself.