I was ecstatic when I received my first job offer from the company of my dreams. It’s not just any company – it’s a Fortune 500 car manufacturer. The position was more than any mechanical major could ask for. I was the happiest girl in the world until I talked to Kevin*.
I told my family and my close friends about the offer, including Kevin who, it turns out, also applied and got an offer for the exact same position at the same company. We chatted excitedly over lunch about our possible new job, about getting apartments and about going out on the night of our graduation ceremony.
Time seemed to freeze when Kevin mentioned how much he was being offered from the company. I found out that I was getting paid $4,000 less. I was offered less as my starting salary, not because I have a lower GPA than him (mine is higher than his), I have less work experience (we are about the same) or speak fewer languages than he does (I’m trilingual, are you kidding me?). On top of work experience and academic prowess, I competed in a car design contest in Germany one summer.
In my gut feeling, I knew I was being offered less money because I am female. I felt betrayed. I felt offended. I felt like throwing the piping hot plate of mac and cheese into Kevin’s face for no reason. I couldn’t bear to look at the email anymore.
Well, it’s not like I don’t have reasons to be mad. He wouldn’t understand. Like all other guy friends of mine, he would just shrug and suggest that “maybe it’s something else.”
I sent an email to the company, asking to discuss the condition of the offer. The company agreed to it, saying a representative would call me soon. No one called. So I sent another email. No replies. I sent a few more emails. This time I highlighted my desire to talk about my starting salary. Nothing. I tried calling the company but no one answered.
I didn’t want to admit defeat, so I kept applying for more jobs and internships while I was dealing with the company. But I haven’t gotten offers from anyone else. Although the idea of taking a job at a company that doesn’t value my skills and me is nauseating, I may have to settle in order to make a living.
I know I’m not the only one. I’m neither the first nor last woman to face this problem, STEM or non-STEM. I was well aware of the gender wage gap, but I didn’t know that workplace sexism starts even before you take your first step inside your office.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of people involved.
Photo by Kimberly Bartner