Episode 1: Welcome to In The Gap

0:00 / 26:17
August 4, 2020

The statistics are clear: Black women in the American workforce are typically paid 62 cents on the dollar compared with white, non-Hispanic men. It’s a harsh reality to face on paper; it’s even harder in real life—especially when you uncover it by accident. In our inaugural episode, engineer Aja reflects on her heartbreaking discovery that a white male co-worker made an entire salary more than her for the exact same job—which she had been doing longer. But the biggest toll? Psychological. In The Gap host and producer Chandra Thomas Whitfield also reflects on what to expect from this, her inaugural podcast series.

In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine. Contact the show at podcast@inthesetimes.com.



CHANDRA THOMAS WHITFIELD (HOST): Welcome to the premiere episode of In The Gap, a podcast about how and why Black women aren’t getting their green. I’m your host, journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield.

On In the Gap you’ll hear from real women and experts alike discussing the many ways the gender pay gap impacts the lives of Black women in the American workforce.

Today, we share a story that is both disappointing and disturbing.

AJA: So I was very immediately shocked that I, you know, was offered so much lower—and I was there longer, I had more tenure, so I was immediately confused. But, of course, we were at lunch so I tried to just kind of put a smile on my face behind all this pain because it’s like how in the world am I getting paid a significant amount less than him.

WHITFIELD: That’s our guest today, Aja, an engineer, sharing her reaction to the day a white male coworker, a friend, and a person who held the exact same position, casually shared his salary over lunch. Let’s just say the amount was astonishing and from that day on, Aja says she was never the same. I must note that I am only sharing her first name to protect her privacy.

Before we get into Aja’s story, I’d like to get into some of the research. According to the most recent data from the National Partnership for Women and Families, Black women in the United States who worked full time year-round are typically paid just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white non-Hispanic men. Now compare that to Black men—they earn about 87 cents for every dollar that white men receive. For white women, it's about 79 cents on the dollar. Now, researchers estimate that over the course of a 40-year career, the pay gap costs Black women, brace yourself, just over $946,000 in earnings.

So, those lost wages mean Black women have less money to support themselves and their families and even fewer resources to invest in the future.


And as a result, they suffer, their families suffer, and so does the American economy.

Our guest today, Aja, knows all about this firsthand. Okay Aja can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do?

AJA:Yes, absolutely. So I've always been in the tech industry. I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder, and that's where I studied engineering, computer engineering.

So I've always been into tech and, you know, web development, Java development, coding. I've always been in those type of jobs and my experience has been definitely male-dominated. It's intimidating, a lot of times, just trying to do your hard work and try to do what you can, but then also knowing that there is that difference in your male counterparts, and so it's always been a struggle. It's something that we just have to kind of keep going.

As a Black woman, it's definitely one of those things where you have to just keep going. It's a matter of just keep going, staying motivated. And then as I progressed, and you know, got married, and started having a family, it became even more challenging because that's when naturally everyone is supposed to get paid a certain amount.

WHITFIELD: —After so many years in the industry and experience.

AJA: Absolutely. So you're supposed to continue down that path. But as a woman of color you tend to see that there's this gap that continues to just grow, and I've definitely seen that in my own life.

WHITFIELD: So take us back, you were working and where were you working at the time?


AJA: So I was still doing engineering work, support operations, tech operations work. So I was working at this company and I had a friend who was very open. I mean, we were actually really good friends and I really appreciated his honesty. And one day he just happened to tell me how much he was making. He was a white man. We were friends and you know, we didn't have that color or gender difference between us. We just were friends. It was an honest friendship.

WHITFIELD: So where were you? Were you at lunch? Were you in the break room? Are you at your desk? Like, can you kind of just put us back to that moment that you're having this conversation with this friend, who just so happens to be a white guy? Where were you?

AJA: We were out at lunch. It was just me and him, and we were just talking about work and joking around. I think it just kind of leisurely came out, like, “Oh yeah, you know, I'm just making this amount.” And I was like, “Oh, that's neat.” Like we did the same job, the same exact job to be specific, and we sat right next to each other. We both took calls and solved trouble tickets. And so it's like, “Huh.”

Chandra: And what did he say? He said he made a certain amount of money. And how did that compare to what you were making?


AJA: I was $40 to $45,000 less than that number, so I was very immediately

shocked that I was offered so much lower. And I was there longer. I had more tenure. I was immediately confused. But of course, we were at lunch and so I tried to just kind of put a smile on my face behind all this pain because I'm like, “How in the world am I getting paid a significant amount less than him?”

WHITFIELD: But $40,000, that's actually a whole other salary for another person in certain positions. That's a pretty significant difference in pay. So here's a guy who's been there a shorter time than you. You all are sitting side by side, taking the same calls, solving the same problems. And you're sitting here at lunch in a pretty giddy mood, laughing, joking, and you find out that this man is making $40,000 more than you. And so when you got back to your office after this lunch, do you remember what was going through your mind?


AJA: I definitely do, Chandra. I was devastated, and I immediately started to perform poorly. I mean, I couldn't get myself motivated after that point. So it was a gradual decrease in motivation. I didn't want to perform well. I felt like I was treated unfair. At the time, I had already had my oldest son so I wasn't in a position to really want to fight. And it was one of those things where I decided to just go ahead and leave that job. But it wasn't just because I wanted to take care of my child—I felt like there was also the burden of sitting next to someone that was getting paid so much more than me for the same job and there was no reason for it. There was no reason that I was getting paid less. We both had our bachelor's degrees, so I was very confused.


WHITFIELD: Was there any part of you that thought about confronting them, the management, the owners there? Did you have any thoughts about lawsuits or anything like that?

AJA: I did, and I think, if it was to happen now in my life where my children are older, and I'm getting to that point where I become a little more aggressive. I felt a little more vulnerable back then because I just had a new baby, and I was still trying to balance my career and my work life with my personal life and my home life, and a new baby is definitely a challenge.

So, it was one of those things—I had to pick my battle, and I decided to go ahead and just leave that job. I didn't really confront anyone, any managers. I just decided to go ahead and leave and take a little part time job to take care of my son. But I had to face that. And I feel like if it was to happen now, I think I would do it a lot differently. I would definitely say something and mention it. And maybe not speak about specific figures, but I would definitely, and not put him in the spotlight because I didn't want to jeopardize our friendship, but still just to say, “Hey, I'm aware of this, and I would like compensation.”


WHITFIELD: So it sounds like it was really a timing issue for you. It was being a new parent and things like that. So when you say your performance slipped, what do you think? Did it do something to you internally? What was kind of the inner thought process for you? What was going through your mind? Was it making you feel a certain way about yourself? Or was it more of an anger? Was it sadness? Trying to get an idea of like, what it would feel like to know that you're being compensated much less than someone doing the exact same job.

AJA: Good question. I think it was definitely psychological. It definitely messed with [me] mentally. I just wasn't able to perform well. I felt like I knew that I was able to do the job just as well. And, you know, I got feedback from my managers. So I knew that I was performing well, and that I performed just as well. So I was confused. And I felt like, psychologically, I just wasn't able to pump myself up to say, “I need to go to speak to a manager.” I just kind of just shut down. And so I did start performing. I started not to feel as motivated. I just didn't want to show up on time. I didn't want to, you know, chug out and, look at all these tickets and try to solve them. It's like no, he can do it.


Like honestly, in my mind, I'm like “You know what, he can do it. He's getting paid more. Let him do it.” That was my attitude. And I was trying to talk myself out of the attitude like no, I should be compensated fairly, but like I said it was about timing at that moment. So I decided to do something else.

WHITFIELD: After leaving that job, do you feel like you were armed with a different perspective when you negotiated your next job?

AJA: Absolutely. I think I learned from that situation because, again, I mean, that's been eight years now. And so looking back I feel like I would have done it differently. But I learned from it. I learned that now I won't go silent. I'll say that. You know, I think I played my cards right because I wanted to focus on my child, and I left with good faith, just saying, “Hey, you know, I just want to take some time with my child.” Even though deep down, I felt defeated, honestly.


I can recall my first job. I remember seeing a figure, like a salary amount, and then the HR department would lower that and say, “Well, we're going to offer you $10,000 less than what was on that on that sheet.” And it's like, “Huh, why do I get paid less.” And this is my first job out of college so I'm remembering that. And I’ve read an article too, that we just start off lower. And so even though now I feel like I'm being compensated fairly, but like I was saying now, eight years later after, you know that first job, am I still way behind? I mean exponentially? Like how much less am I getting paid now?


WHITFIELD: Thanks Aja for joining us today. Wow what a just powerful story. It’s so inspiring. I know that a lot of women don't feel comfortable sharing their stories, and I feel like in so many ways you spoke for so many women today. So just thank you so much for stepping out of the shadows and being a voice for so many people.

Again, thank you so much for joining me on their premiere episode of In The Gap. This is a dream come true. So I felt like I should start by telling you a little bit about myself before we go on this journey. As I've stated before, I'm journalist Chandra Thomas Woodfield. I've actually been a journalist for more than 20 years now. I've worked for a wide array of publications, Essence, Ebony, NBCnews.com, the Huffington Post. I've been published in The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, The Root, TheGrio—you name it, I've done it.


What you will see as a common thread is I really have enjoyed telling the stories that I feel are often untold, particularly as it relates to communities of color, specifically the Black community. And also just in battle groups in general—the groups that don't always get the opportunity to have their stories shared.

So this podcast is my first podcast. So while I've been a journalist for many years, this is my first podcast. And I'm so excited because this was really a learning experience for me, but it was also an extension, I believe, of my life's work. I've always again worked on issues of equity and justice and race. So the gender pay gap just falls perfectly into that theme.

This podcast is about the gender pay gap, which is generally described as women, particularly in this case Black women, getting paid less money than white men for comparable work—and in many cases when we are overqualified, or more qualified than others. But what I really learned in this process is that it's not just about someone getting paid more than you, it's also about just a general feeling of how Black women are treated in the workplace. Sort of a feeling of hostility. A feeling like we must overcome stereotypes and preconceived notions about us that follow us in the workplace. And no matter really who you are, whether you're in corporate America, or you're working a “blue collar job,” many Black women feel the same feelings. They feel like they feel the same treatment.


And as we move into this interesting moment in history, in American history, I feel like this pay gap issue is even more relevant. And what's funny is I did this more so from the standpoint of research, for this opportunity to work with In These Times. But as I got into the research, I realized that “Hmm, I am probably a victim of this issue.”

And honestly, it never occurred to me that I was getting paid less than anybody in particular. But now I just feel like the data and the research basically points to the fact that I probably have lost thousands upon thousands of dollars, just because I was unaware—which is, again, why I wanted to do this podcast because we need to be equipped. We need to be aware. We need to be educated. But we also need to be armed with information that is going to help us change this situation. And this podcast really captures everything, the whole issue, so many different topics. So of course, we opened with the story of Aja, who actually feels like she found out specifically that a white male coworker was making $40,000 more than her. But another issue that has to be addressed is the history.

And so from there, we move into “Roots,” which is looking back at how this issue is rooted in our American history. It's rooted in slavery. It's rooted in discrimination. It's rooted in Jim Crow. It's rooted in so many aspects of discrimination in our society, and you have to look back to get to where we are. And I feel like this episode's roots really explores all the different ways that what we're experiencing now is a reflection of how Africans, African Americans and Blacks have routinely been treated in America.


From there we go into one of the most important topics that comes out the research: motherhood. The motherhood penalty. And we talk about how being a mom has a detrimental effect on your experience in the workplace—whether it's being paid less, whether it's for you being pregnant and being viewed as incompetent or not committed to your job, and also facing a level of hostility, whether it's pregnancy, whether it's having to do with you committing yourself to parental duties. And Black women have historically, again, been treated as if they are not supposed to focus on their families, or themselves, or really be whole people.


We also get into where many Black women feel that they are not being considered. That they are being overlooked for opportunities because they are Black women. And we have stories of a Black woman who says a white male coworker was overtly offered a job in front of her, despite the fact that she was full time, she had transformed this department, and a white male part time worker was offered a higher position and directly in front of her. So moments like that.

I also interview Dr. Julianne Malveaux. She is an acclaimed Black economist and she also is the former president of a historically Black college. And she really sets the stage in explaining all the economic factors that contribute to the challenges that Black women face in terms of economic instability and responsibilities, and really just the pressures that Black women often face in feeling like they have to manage and lead households in many times with little-to-no resources.


That covers our problems aspect of the podcast series. The second half of the podcast goes into the solutions phase. That's where we talk about negotiating, pay transparency. We talk about the legal side—should you sue? How should you sue? What do you need to think about before you make that decision? And we just have some wonderful information. Within negotiating, a lot of Black women, and I can say this for myself, can look back and say “I did not negotiate.”

Now, the research shows that Black women are asking, and many times are turned down, and actually viewed negatively for asking for what is perceived as too much money or more than their worth. But I can honestly say it took me years to figure out that I should be negotiating, how to negotiate, what is on the table, what should be on the table, and what other aspects can I include in my package and salary. So, in that episode, we have Valerie Burton, an amazing author. She also talks about the internal issues that many of us Black women have to overcome because of the feelings of lack of self-worth. And those internal issues can affect your ability and/or desire to actually ask for what you deserve.


Pay transparency also comes up. We have an amazing story of a woman who found out through a practice called pay transparency, that she was one of the lower paid on her team. And this is a movement where companies are trying to, in many cases, put out: This is the salaries of everyone. And we want to talk about that movement, but also look into how that could benefit Black women in particular in the workforce.


I mentioned the law aspect. Another very very eye opening episode is when we talk about unions. And I will say, this was something that I learned the most of in this process. I was not truly aware of unions and the role that they are playing and have played historically in leveling the playing ground for Black women and Black workers in general. But it's a really inspiring episode because it speaks to the power of organizing and the power in numbers that we always hear about. And it's really an inspiring story just learning about the history that many of us don't know about the many Black women who have led unions and movements, labor union movements, so it's really an eye opening episode.


And another favorite is an episode that I call “DreamYourself Free.” That's when we're joined by womanist scholar Ebony Janice Moore, and she is really insightful. As I mentioned, womanist scholar, she was recently featured in a Harper's Bazaar magazine article. And I really love her message because she challenges Black women to look at their lives differently to open themselves up to dreaming and joy and not feeling so tied, having our worth so tied to work and accomplishing things. She has an interesting perspective about rest as the real revolution: Rest as resistance. And I was just so blown away by that concept that I can say, after working this year on this podcast, I'm down with that cause. So and then of course, I will be ending with my reflections, what I learned, what I hope you walk away with, and just really want to share my experience going through this process. And of course, again, this was done during a pandemic, and many other life changing events in our country.


So I’m definitely looking forward to sharing my reflections, what I got out of it, what I hope you walk away with. So I hope you're as excited about this as I am. Thank you so much for just listening and just giving us an opportunity to enlighten you, and educate you, and hopefully you will also enjoy it.


Again, thanks for joining us today. Our show was hosted and produced by me, Chandra Thomas Whitfield, and edited by Kristen Aldridge and House of Pod. Our music is Convoy Lines by Blue Dot Sessions. In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine, which has been covering issues of equity and social justice since 1976. To learn more about the In The Gap podcast and the pay gap for Black women, go to www.inthesetimes.com/inthegap.