I am a huge fan of Girls Who Code — an organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology one girl at a time.  Each summer, AT&T hosts a GWC cohort at a number of locations across the country, including in the DC office.  And every summer I’m given the honor of spending time with the girls to talk about my role at AT&T and my tech career journey.  I also make a point of addressing an issue that is a priority for me — eliminating pay inequality for women.

It’s always felt a little odd discussing pay inequality with a group of high schoolers, most of whom have not yet held their first job. But I plow forward anyway, sharing some hard truths about the pay gap, and facts that I hope will resonate and be called forth when these girls have the opportunity to negotiate their first compensation package.

Consider:

Women are almost half of the workforce and they receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, in 2016, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Looking at millennials (born 1980-1984) with bachelor’s degrees or higher, who work full-time, year-round, one study found that at age 25, women on average were earning $44,119 and men were earning $49,050.  If that pay differential remains and is projected out over the course of a career to age 60, the cumulative loss to the average female full-time worker would be more than a million dollars —$1,066,721 to be exact. 

While the variables that contribute to the gender wage gap are many, I talk to the girls about the one tool readily available to them to help close the gap — their ability to recognize their value and negotiate for a higher salary.  I tell them that if they only remember one thing from my presentation, I want it to be this:  always ask for more money.  That, of course, leads to a host of other concerns.  For example, we talk about how it’s hard to speak up for yourself.  Research tells us that the majority of women feel uncomfortable negotiating for themselves.  We talk about the fear that the employer might revoke the job offer or get angry, and about the disappointment of perhaps being told no.  I share with them some tips and tactics and a whole lot of encouragement.  But I usually leave not knowing if I’ve successfully planted a seed that will take root and grow.

The other day, as I walking to the metro, I was approached by three of our girls who coded this summer who were gathered on the sidewalk outside our office. They were excited to see me again and told me how much they enjoyed the summer and learning to code.  They also told me how much they learned from my presentation on pay inequality.  The message had clearly been heard and internalized in an important and material way and the girls were quite animated and excited about taking on the challenge of representing themselves in the workplace.  As one of them put it, “You gave us what we need — knowledge.” Yes, knowledge is a wonderful thing.

This is why I love Girls Who Code. The program gave me this wonderful gift:  three beautiful, young girls, standing on a street corner on a sunny afternoon, poised to embrace a career in tech, eager to fight for their fair share and ready to conquer the world.

Thank you, Girls Who Code. See you next summer!

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