On Equal Pay Day, Debby Carreau explains why she accepted a $20,000 salary when she started her career when everyone around her made more.
In April 1993, I got my first management job while I was still in college. I remember the beautiful spring day so clearly and how I felt so excited to become an assistant manager In fact, I was so excited, I likely would have worked for free.
I worked for $16,000 a year Canadian (about $20,000 USD in today’s dollars) as an assistant manager of a high-volume business with great brand recognition and about 70 employees. At 19 years old working, 60+ hours a week, I thought I’d hit the jackpot: a management role with real supervisory authority, inventory management and cash responsibilities. I even had business cards and keys to the building to prove it.
I knew the other managers were earning considerably more than I was, and a male colleague made twice as much for an almost identical job.
What did I do about it? I put my head down and worked harder than anyone else — even worked for free on my days off. I kept telling myself that I would end up being highly successful so my current wage didn’t matter. I believed that, by working hard, I would show them how good I was.
I did end up being successful as I would have defined it in my 20s. I made partner at a record-breaking age of 24 and started my own company.
So, the moral of the story is put your head down, work hard and you will get ahead, right? Wrong. During my mission to show everyone what I was worth, I lost sight of all the other women around me who may not have had all of my advantages. I didn’t consider their lives at home or whether they’d have time to nurture their social networks.
In 1993, I didn’t realize the responsibility I had to speak up — and for more than just myself.
To all of the women I worked alongside, and those who followed me, I am truly sorry. I should have spoken up about the wage gap. I let you down.
Today, the wage gap still exists in almost every industry in every country in the world. Beyond being unfair, this is a real economic issue — according to the consulting firm McKinsey, ending the gender gap would create trillions of dollars for world economies.
The reasons for this inequality are many and complicated. That means no one solution alone will close the gap, but it also means there are a lot of things we can do to help.
One thing we can do is to view this as a business opportunity, not a women’s problem. In order to move the needle, we must all be part of the solution: If we know about inequities, we need to speak up, share our personal stories and, most importantly, publicly recognize positive behaviors.
We can also speak up when we’re being mistreated — or be the one others can speak to when they’re being mistreated. As CEOs and business leaders, we have a responsibility to stand up for others who can’t.
I should have spoken up when I was a young manager earning $16,000 a year. I should not have waited until I was CEO. Even now, as I do my best to make up for lost time, I know I can’t do it alone. Together, though, through education, positive work environments and productivity, we can all do something about the wage gap.