What Advice Would You Give Young Women in the Workplace?

by | Apr 21, 2016 | Fair Pay

For Equal Pay Day this year, MTV’s Casey Acierno reflected on her own experience as a young woman in the workplace and the significance of MTV’s new 79% Work Clock and effort to call attention to the gender wage gap. As part of the project, she asked MTV’s campaign partners and Medium followers what advice they would give young women in the workplace. Here‘s what I had to say:

As someone who spends most of my time trying to win workplace protections for women and people across the country, that question brings to mind the many young people I encounter who start their careers and are immediately confronted with a “boss lottery” when it comes to having basic support and a voice at work. It also makes me think about my own experience as a young professional and eventually a new mom who struggled to manage work and family even though I was fortunate and had an exceptional employer.

Many people entering the workforce today assume they will be able to stay home when they get sick or need to see a doctor, without losing a paycheck or their jobs. Many also assume they will have access to some paid time off if they choose to start a family, they are diagnosed with a serious illness, or a parent or partner needs medical care. And women in particular assume they won’t be fired, forced off the job or denied pay or promotions because of their gender or because they might become pregnant.

In some ways these are reasonable assumptions — how can it possibly be true that, in the 21st century, workplace policies are so badly out of sync with the realities of people’s lives and how far we have come in advancing gender equality? Sadly, it is true, despite the hard-fought progress over the years and the laws already on the books. And the consequences are significant and include the punishing gender wage gap that MTV’s 79% Work Clock so clearly illustrates.

That’s why the organization I work for, the National Partnership for Women & Families, is a proud partner of MTV’s “Look Different” campaign. Working people today, and especially those starting their careers, need to sound an alarm on our nation’s outdated workplace policies and the societal and cultural biases and stereotypes they perpetuate. The fair and family friendly policies we work to advance impact the lives of every generation, and they should be at the top of the national agenda.

So, what do I wish I had known when I entered the workplace? That you can’t assume you will have access to policies as common sense as paid family and medical leave or paid sick days, or even protections against pay and pregnancy discrimination. That knowing your rights is critically important. And that your experience can make you a powerful advocate for change. I’ve taken that to heart over the years, and I challenge others to join me!

Cross-posted from Medium. You can read Casey’s post here.