I heard you hired a new creative director. An influential, inspiring, female one. I just hope you’re compensating her fairly. And that she, in turn, fairly compensates those in her charge. Especially the girls.
The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reinstates prior law and makes clear that pay discrimination claims on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability “accrue” whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck, as well as when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to the decision or practice, or when a person is otherwise affected by the decision or practice. The law is retroactive to May 28, 2007, the day before the Court issued its ruling in Ledbetter.
Typing “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” into your search engine at NPR.org yields 34 results. Typing in “gender equality” yields 510 results. As a non-profit news organization, you do your share of reporting on this issue, raising empathy and awareness; for that I applaud you. But do you as an employer reflect your progressive journalistic stance advocating equal pay for equal work?
Based on my experience, no. From June 2008 to August 2010, I was a senior designer on your digital media team, part of a talented group responsible for the award-winning 2009 redesign. It was the first time in your history that you really started taking design seriously, building a product team with design integrated as a core function. That smart decision served you well, with our team being recognized again and again for good design, culminating in a year ending with NPR.org winning the highest honor in journalism, the Peabody Award. I played a key role in these wins, especially in ensuring and advocating for good – no, great – design. I was a tireless, articulate design advocate. Just ask those who remember me.
I have many fond memories of my time with you and count myself incredibly privileged to have been a part of your mission: working at NPR has been, to date, the highlight of my professional career. The people I met in your halls were some of the smartest, most interesting people I have ever worked with, and many are still good friends. I am not just a former employee of NPR: I am a proud NPR alum.
Overall, you were a good place to work, with your own share of quirks, frustrations, organizational dysfunction and strong personalities to contend with, just like any other workplace. Those things were to be expected. What I didn’t expect, however, was to learn after I left that you had perpetuated the same sort of gender discrimination your reporting attempts to expose.
I discovered in a casual conversation with another senior designer who started a year after I did that he was paid roughly $15,000 more per year than I was, for the exact same job. Despite the fact that I had more seniority than he did, more design education, teaching experience at one of the top design schools in the country, and more product design experience (specifically around designing for devices). We worked on the same products, performed the same tasks, handed off the same deliverables. He is a great designer: very smart, talented and deserving of every extra penny in salary he received. But I am equally smart, talented, and deserving of equal pay for equal work. However, my intelligence, talent and added credentials didn’t matter for this simple fact: I am not a man.
When he told me this, I was (still am) very upset. Not at him, but at you, NPR, at my managers there, at the system that allows this sort of injustice to continue, despite your own detailed, historical knowledge of gender inequality. Granted, he negotiated his salary while I did not. But that is no excuse for an employer to take advantage of the female propensity not to ask for what she’s due. That is no excuse for the managers and HR staff who knew the salaries of all their designers and yet did nothing to rectify these blatant discrepancies.
I have good reason to fear. Look what happened to her: Jill Abramson Fired For Seeking Equal Pay
As I sit here penning this, I am worried. Worried that my NPR friends will think I’m petty and whiny. Worried that they’ll think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Worried that they’ll wish I would just shut up and get the fuck over it already (I mean, really, Callie. It’s been over three years!).
Worried that they won’t want to talk to me anymore. Worried that my current or future employers might see this open letter and think twice about me. For fear I’m too much of a rabble rouser or a loose canon or an outspoken force (or, god forbid, a pushy bitch) that they’d rather not reckon with. But then I think again, about others instead of myself. About my daughter, my granddaughter, my niece, and my female friends. And their daughters and female friends, too. About my former female students who looked up to me as a woman leader in design and technology. About the younger female designers I work with at Microsoft now who look up to me, too. About my female friends still at NPR, who may very well be making less than their male counterparts and not even know it because 1). they don’t think to ask or worse, are scared to; and 2). NPR managment chooses not to voluntarily enforce equal pay for equal work, despite laws that require them to do so.
I think about well-behaved women not making history and Sheryl Sandberg leaning in. I think about Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem and Rosa Parks and Anita Hill and how it’s more important to me to be like them than to be liked by others. I think about all the other ways females are discriminated against. I think about how if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. About how writing increases knowledge. About how in knowledge, there is power. About how power often gives rise to solutions.
Then I realize I have no choice but to write. To speak up. To lean in. To cry out. To call farce. To get mad. To get fucking pissed off. And then, to take action. So here I am, NPR. Writing, for everyone to see. I love you still, but if you haven’t already, practice what you report. Do what’s right by paying women what they’re due, whether they ask for it or not.