(Photo by Homero Campos)
“[I] do hereby proclaim March 14, 2023 as National Equal Pay Day,” United States President Joe Biden said on March 13. “I call upon all Americans to recognize the full value of women’s skills and their significant contributions to the labor force, acknowledge the injustice of wage inequality, and join efforts to achieve equal pay.”
“63% of the time, women are offered less [pay] than men for the same job at the same company,” educator and Disrupt The Gap founder Shell Bobev said during an NJIT colloquium on Feb. 15. Students gathered in the New Jersey Innovation Institute Agile Strategy Lab to hear “Compensation After College: Mindset, Strategy, & Rights.”
“I had a lengthy personal journey with a pay gap while working in the corporate world, requiring me to advocate for myself over and over again,” Bobev said. This was how she formed a deep passion for creating Disrupt The Gap, developing expertise in the topics the platform discusses with others.
The wage equality platform incorporates a multi-front disruption of pay gaps. “One front is providing learning and support to working individuals and those preparing to enter the workforce,” she explained. “Another front is working with organizations to support them with addressing compensation practices, complying with equal pay legislation, and conducting pay equality audits.”
The final front is thought leadership, which involves dialoguing between other community stakeholders and leaders — for instance, social justice organizations and politicians. The multi-front approach produces myriad benefits, including uncovering insights from one group of stakeholders that become relevant to another group.
“Even though the foundation is addressing the gender pay gap, it must be stated we support ‘equal pay for equal work’ across all demographics,” Bobev emphasized. “Men attend our events, including those at NJIT, as the knowledge shared is very much universally relevant.”
During the colloquium, Bobev covered six main topics encompassing bias, wages, legalities, and self-perception. The first one was about deepening self-confidence and shifting perspectives to reduce fear in facing a future employer. Recruiters expect to negotiate salaries on an initial job offer; the recruiter may admire someone more if they advocate for themself.
Then, Bobev spoke about the elements of compensation beyond annual salary. Many candidates may not realize or recall bonuses, stocks, allowances, vacation time, and other aspects of compensation. The third topic she covered was researching compensation and finding details that may help a candidate reach their decision about accepting or rejecting an offer.
Following that, Bobev addressed a concern commonly experienced by candidates that may not have as much career experience — including college students or individuals who recently graduated from university: having tough conversations directly with the recruiter regarding a desired salary figure or a promised bonus.
She offered ways to respond to common statements from the recruiter like “If you work well, we can pay you more after 6 months.” One way to answer that as a candidate can be, “Let’s clarify those details and ensure they’re in writing in the offer letter.”
The fifth theme she addressed is how bias affects women in technology specifically. This is an extremely appropriate topic to cover at an institution like NJIT, which focuses on STEM-based education and currently has a gender ratio of about 71.46% men to 28.54% women.
Bobev stated that 33% of men are not sure if a pay gap exists or firmly deny that it does, and she also cited an article that was titled “46% of American men think the gender pay gap is ‘made up to serve a political purpose’” on CNBC’s Make It platform.
Pay gap statistics often cite that women earn about 80 cents for every dollar that men do, though she points out that those statistics are generally based on total annual income variances and not comparisons of peers doing the same job. These statistics have encouraged candidates to inquire their potential recruiters about equal pay and reviewing compensation for peer equality.
The final topic covered pay rights; Bobev spoke about the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law in 2018. The act “prohibits an employer from paying any employee who is a member of a protected class less than what it pays an employee who is not a member of that protected class for ‘substantially similar work,’” according to the state’s Office of the Attorney General.
Bobev has been involved with NJIT since 2020, partnering with other organizations, conducting workshops, and paneling with fellow leaders for the university community. She mentioned that “NJIT is a school known for upward economic mobility, meaning people can change their economic trajectories with the right information and education,” which has motivated her to engage with the institution these past few years.
This particular colloquium was a collaboration among three NJIT groups: the Women in Computing Society, the Graduate Women in Computing Society, and the Albert Dorman Honors College. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff attended this event.
“The age ranges of our program participants have ranged from teens to those in their 60s,” she stated. “I thought that Disrupt The Gap would be of most service to young people, but I discovered that there are prior generations who were never provided support with these topics and very much want it!”
Data science professor Dr. James Geller commented, “Even though the talk went into double overtime — well beyond one hour — almost all students stayed until the end and stayed attentive until the end. With today’s low attention spans, this is truly amazing. Clearly, the topic and the presentation captured the audience.”
He stated that he learned various new bits of information from Bobev’s presentation — a lot of which he would have implemented during his last job’s interview process. Along with all the data Bobev presented, Geller said she “provided career advice that dealt with the emotional side of all the issues.”
Bobev encourages everyone to Disrupt The Gap — as it “addresses an age-old problem in innovative and inclusive ways. Helping employers implement equitable practices means creating new systems that work for all.”
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