A Lifetime of the Wage Gap: From the Perspective of 50,000 Chipotle Burrito Bowls

This post is the fourth in a series of blog posts leading up to Equal Pay Day (April 12) featuring women at the beginning and end of their careers reflecting on the impact of the lifetime wage gap.
After two formative jobs and two and a half years in the workforce, my career and I are beginning to get to know each other. I’m figuring out the settings that I work well in and those I don’t. I have already invested years of formal education to build skills specific to my career and, in return, my career rewards me with a sense of accomplishment and pride. We have a pretty good thing going. I’d say we’re well into that warm-giggly-hopeful-stage where I feel like we can do anything together.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/saechang/4329286464
The lifetime wage gap adds up to about 50,000 of these.

At this point, I only have the monetary capacity to live shortsightedly. I’m not jumping to conclusions about whether my career and I are in it for the long haul, but, I anticipate we will soon have to face those uncomfortable conversations that start with things like, “where do we see ourselves in 5 years?” and even more importantly, “are we getting what we need out of this arrangement?”
When I hear that as a woman I am expected to lose more than $430,000 over a career because of the gender pay gap, I feel an immediate sense of disempowerment and frustration. $430,000 is a wild amount of money and it is even worse when we focus in on the expected losses for women of color. If I’m being totally honest, my initial thoughts try to convert $430,000 into something I am more acquainted with, like number of Chipotle burrito bowls (roughly 50,000 chicken burrito bowls=$430,000), because $430,000 is so much more money than I have ever had to think about. But, when I really consider it—as the supposed adult that I am—I think about how that money can be used for my future. It would help with things like retirement (which I don’t currently have the capacity to save for) or assist in paying off student loans or prepare for the family I eventually want to support. Learning I stand to miss out on $430,000 feels as if I am finding out that my career will be cheating on me with a man—by structurally setting me up to lose.
I have plans to attend graduate school because I want to invest in my career options. I want to compete for interesting jobs and make myself the most appealing possible candidate. If we don’t fix the wage gap, though, it virtually guarantees that my investments will be rewarded with diminished returns; maybe a fine practice if the rest of the world was set up to help me save money, but it’s not. My groceries aren’t discounted. My student loans aren’t any less.  In fact, as a woman, some of my expenses are even more costly.
Obviously, my career and I have some differences that we need to work out. And while the career wage gap can feel like an insurmountable barrier to equity, I am hopeful that with open communication strategies, such as pay transparency policies, we can help close that gap.