On Tuesday afternoon, Mary Boergers, a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW)’s Oakland-Piedmont Branch, handed out candy bars to passersby at the Rockridge BART station and cried, “Equal pay for women! Would you like a candy bar?” Many people didn’t take the candy bars, shaking their heads—while some took them and said, “Thank you!”
“This is just a great way to let people know, remind them that women aren’t making money as much as men,” said Boergers. “I thought it’s a great way of spreading the word and hopefully getting more people to support actions to improve pay equity.”
Boergers was volunteering as a way to mark “Equal Pay Day,” along with 7 other members of the AAUW branch. Equal Pay Day is a symbolic day to raise awareness about the gender pay gap. The group’s table was covered in informational booklets and a banner that stated: “Women earn 20% less than men” and “On average, women must work 16 months to equal what men earn in 12.”
AAUW organized its Equal Pay Day activities in 50 states, and it was the first time for the Oakland branch to host the event. “Right now, all of us are so aware of how women are being treated with the ‘Me Too’ movement,” said Diane Rawicz, the president of the branch. “This is an opportunity to let them know that there are a lot of things we need to speak up about, including equal pay.”
The members of the branch distributed “Payday” peanut caramel bars—each candy bar was stapled with a card that explained the pay gap issue and a business card with information about the AAUW. The card listed 5 actions that people can take to get fair pay, such as “Learn how to negotiate your salary,” “Know your rights at work” and “Contact policy makers and urge them to pass stronger laws on equal pay for equal work.”
Before coming to the BART station, the branch members had already held an “unequal bake sale” at Laney College, where they sold cookies with unequal prices. “We told them the cookies are 75 cents for women and a dollar for men,” said Barbara Kridl, a member of the branch. “Most of them took it. They laughed and understood.” The branch sold over 200 cookies in two hours. “It was good, especially being with the younger people, because they are not going to go through— hopefully—what a lot of us went through,” said Kridl.
In 2016, women working full time in the United States were typically paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, according to the AAUW. “The gap exists in so many reasons,” said Barbara Norum, the vice president of public policy for the Oakland branch. “One is women don’t know how to negotiate, so they don’t negotiate.” AAUW’s Oakland-Piedmont branch runs a “Start Smart” program, which is a workshop designed to empower college women to successfully negotiate their salary and benefits. “Just last week, we did one workshop at Laney College for students, so that they can learn how to negotiate a fair salary,” added Norum.
The pay gap has narrowed since the 1970s, due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation, and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate, according to the report by the AAUW. Given the rate of change between 1960 and 2016, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. But even that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2119, according to the report.
But the AAUW members said that some things have changed for the better since 1960.“Now, they [employers] can’t ask questions like ‘Does your husband say it’s okay for you to get a job?’ which I was asked,” said Nancy Adams, a member of the branch. “So, lots has changed in some ways. But the salary discrepancy still exists.” Adams said that she has daughters and granddaughters who still need equal pay. Her granddaughters, who are both 22 years old, are about to graduate from college and have just started to look for work. “They are still facing the issues that I had to face when I was 22 about salaries,” added Adams.
“It’s pretty unreasonable that after these many years, women still make so much less than men,” said Cam McArthur, a member of the branch, who has retired from her work. “It really hasn’t improved in the last 40 to 50 years, which is pretty bad considering women do at least as much as men do.”
McArthur said that it was interesting that people who were taking the candy bars at the BART station said they were already aware of the pay gap issue—and she hoped that the impact of their campaign would be greater than just passing out treats. “Some of the people are taking pictures. Maybe they will put them on their Facebook and that will raise some awareness,” she said. “It will be like the Women’s March—the more publicity and the more people become aware, maybe more will be able to talk about it, and more likely the change will occur.”
According to the AAUW’s report, in 2016 the pay gap was the second lowest in California, where women were paid 88 percent of what men were paid, followed by New York where women were paid 89 percent what men made.
Boergers emphasized that the pay gap is a “family issue,” since many women are married. “It’s not just for women’s issue that men don’t need to be concerned about,” she said. “If their wives are getting less money, the whole family have fewer resources. So, it’s a family issue as well as a women’s equity issue.”