On Monday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Lilly Ledbetter in which the equal-pay advocate discussed her own #MeToo moment, and how sexual harassment aggravates the gender pay gap in America.
Ledbetter’s battle for equal pay began in the late ’90s, when, after working at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for 19 years, she received an anonymous note telling her that she was making significantly less than male colleagues in her same position. This prompted Ledbetter to sue Goodyear for sexual discrimination, a case that would drag on for nearly a decade. Eventually it ended up in the Supreme Court, which denied the claim because she did not file suit within 180 days of receiving her first pay check, but in 2009, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which loosened such timeline requirements.
In her op-ed, Ledbetter discusses the difficult memories Equal Pay Day (the day up until which women would have to work in a year to earn as much as the average man earned the previous year) brings up for her — not only of the anonymous note or her lengthy court battle, but of her experience of sexual harassment at Goodyear.
She says a supervisor repeatedly made inappropriate comments toward her, telling her “If you don’t go to bed with me, you won’t have a job.” After she reported his behavior to Goodyear, she says her harasser never faced consequences, but that her work-life became significantly harder. And she says she’s not alone. Ledbetter writes:
When I am on the road, speaking and sharing my pay discrimination story with women’s rights groups, students and lawmakers, the women who come up to me after my speech don’t just tell me about how their male co-workers doing the same job are making more — they share stories of losing their job, being demoted or not advancing in the workplace because they didn’t submit to sexual harassment or because they reported it. Of being pushed out of higher-paying male-dominated jobs into lower-paying female-dominated jobs because of near daily harassment. Of how their productivity and health suffered.
While relatively little research exists that examines the connection between sexual harassment and the pay gap, many women have reported facing professional retaliation or stonewalling after reporting a harasser, and a 2017 study by Sociologists for Women in Society found that women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace were 6.5 times more likely to leave their jobs.
Equal Pay Day isn’t really about pay, Ledbetter concludes, adding “to be honest, it never was.”
“It has always been about calling out how our workplaces value women less.”
Read Ledbetter’s full op-ed here.