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Odds Against

Jiab Wasserman  |  January 3, 2019

THE TOP COUNTRIES for gender-equal pay are Iceland, Norway and Finland, according to the World Economic Forum. As it happens, those three countries also rank among the top four countries for Gross National Happiness. The U.S. didn’t crack the top 10 on either list.

The gender wage gap is a major problem in the U.S.—and it affects all of us. Over half of American families are dual income. That means women not receiving their financial due impoverishes American families. That, in turn, puts pressure on men to earn more.

Yet it seems many folks are reluctant to admit we even have a problem. Ellevest’s 2018 Money Census found that, while 83% of women recognize that there’s a gender wage gap and fully acknowledge the financial and career inequalities women encounter on the job, only 61% of men agree.

Things clearly need to change at a faster pace. We need more aggressive investigation of wage discrepancy. We need corporations to create genuine opportunities for women and minorities to advance. We need more transparency in wages. Americans are simply too reluctant to share salary information, even as they broadcast every other detail of their lives. When I was working in Thailand as a foreign exchange dealer, all employees’ salary and bonuses were publicly disclosed at all levels.

But change, unfortunately, will take time. Until then, women need survival strategies, so they can succeed in the corporate world. For me, I was forced to find ways to advance, inch by inch, during my career, and keep a positive attitude and not lose faith along the way.

Most of all, I focused on what was best for my family and what we needed, rather than what we didn’t have. Quitting and having no pay—while it might have briefly felt good—paid no bills and would have left me in a worse position to advocate for change.

So I worked hard and was always willing to take on new projects. I kept myself open to learning new skills. If the company wouldn’t train me, I looked to learn on my own. That way, if an opportunity to advance came along, I was ready.

I kept in mind that, however fairly or unfairly I was paid, my career and salary would one day cease. I planned for this by saving diligently. Knowing that I got paid less than my male colleagues, I compensated by living frugally and saving as much as I could.

I also tried not to let the dings and setbacks get me down. I kept in mind my father’s advice when he coached me in tennis: “When you lose a point, focus on the next point. The last point is not relevant anymore.”

He also always encouraged me to “keep fighting. No matter how far behind you are, as long as the game is still being played, you still have a chance.” When I was declined a promotion, I quickly moved on. I focused on my next move or my next opportunity. I can’t claim it was easy. Before I landed my final position as a vice president of credit risk management, I had applied internally for 83 positions.

Jiab Wasserman recently retired at age 53 from her job as a financial analyst at a large bank. She and her husband, a retired high school teacher, currently live in Granada, Spain, and blog about financial and other aspects of retirement—as well as about relocating to another country—at YourThirdLife.com. This is the final article in a three-part series about the obstacles women face in the workplace. The previous installments were Mind the Gap and Not So Fast.

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