We could all use some good news right now, and it certainly helps when adorable kids are involved.
C. Nicole Mason is the President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a kick-ass organization committed to diminishing the gender wage gap and breaking down the barriers that hinder women from being able to fully participate in the workforce. Mason’s also a single mother by choice to ten-year old twins, so she knows a thing or two about the ridiculous “women can have it all” pressure that moms face when they try to balance family life with a career.
“Wage inequality impacts everyone, not just women,” she says. “For families, it’s less money for basic necessities, food, housing, and savings for the future.”
With Equal Pay Day on March 31st, IWPR was looking for a creative way to illustrate the painful divide that is wage inequality in our society. So Mason’s organization enlisted the delightful help of an unexpected demographic to get its point across: children.
“We wanted to take a fresh approach to talking about the gender pay gap and introduce the topic in a non-traditional, non-political way,” Mason explains. “We thought if kids could get why the pay gap is unfair, so could adults.”
IWPR joined forces with The Time’s Up Foundation and production company Charm Offensive Media to make a video featuring students from Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, D.C. In it, kids work together to sort balloons by their colors as quickly as they can. High-fives ensue as the students enthusiastically cheer each other on for a job well done. When it’s time to be rewarded for their hard work, each child is handed a cup filled with candy. But there is one infuriating detail that becomes abundantly clear for everyone – the girls are given a significantly smaller portion than the boys are.
Immediately, the kids understood the injustice being presented to them. “How come you got that much?” one female student asks her male classmate. “Don’t we have the same job?”
The classmates quickly realize that the candy rations represent our society’s gender wage gap, and one boy is so not okay with that. “When someone is a girl, they get less pay,” he says. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”
And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, these children prove themselves to be the future generation we all need and want. The boys start carefully placing some of their candy into the girls’ cups to make their reward equal. Nobody stops until every cup is filled with exactly the same amount.
When they’re all done measuring out the candy, one kid is asked if the reward seems fair now. “Yeah,” he shares. “Because there’s no real difference in what we did.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Mason was not surprised by how thoughtful and solution-oriented these students were when presented with the unequal distribution of their rewards. “Children, especially younger ones, are like sponges and learning their place in the world,” she explains. They also like things to be fair and equal and have a hard time understanding when they are not.”
But as kids get older, they’re inundated with societal conditioning that promotes a distorted and discriminating view of what it means to hold value in this world. “By the time they become adults, many of these messages become beliefs that are hardwired and difficult to change,” she says.
Presently, women in the workforce are deeply hurting when it comes to pay equality. Those who work full time, year-round are paid, on average, only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, resulting in a gap of $10,169 each year. And it’s significantly worse for women of color. When compared to a white man’s salary, Latina female employees are typically paid a measly 53 cents for every dollar, Native American women earn 58 cents, Black women make just 61 cents, white women are paid 77 cents ,and Asian women earn 85 cents. It seems everywhere you look, the wage gap is unfortunately alive and well.
According to Mason, it will take a whopping forty years to close the pay gap for white women and over a century to make pay equal for women of color. “What this means is that my daughter, and my daughter’s daughter will not see pay equity in their lifetimes,” she explains. “It shouldn’t have to take this long. We can all do more to accelerate the closing of the gap.”
IWPR is working to change this overwhelmingly unfair status quo by pushing for public policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which challenges damaging stereotypes about women at home and in the workplace and calls for more employer accountability. Mason also encourages everyone to ask for and support pay transparency and to speak up if a woman at their company is experiencing wage inequality.
Parents can also be a great example for children who are needing positive modeling of equality in their daily lives. Whether it’s promoting inclusivity by having a diverse group of friends, creating an extended community that includes families from different backgrounds, or simply divvying up the household responsibilities equally at home, kids can learn to cultivate empathy and understanding from a young age when given the chance.
Finally, Mason urges us to realize that our children are not only equipped to have seemingly uncomfortable conversations about inequality, but they directly benefit from it. “What we learned from shooting the video is that kids know more than we adults give them credit for,” she says. “When we think we are protecting them by not having tough conversations, chances are they’ve already heard about it from friends, in school, or from the media – and [they] have an opinion. Being able to lean into the moment builds trust and provides kids with an opportunity to express themselves.”
At a time when so many in our nation are suffering greatly, we need our children’s voices to be heard more than ever before. They are being given exactly that opportunity just in time for Equal Pay Day, thanks to the help of incredible movers and shakers like C. Nicole Mason and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.