With Refinery29 taking on the conversation around the way millennial women talk about and manage their finances with the honesty and deep-dive we’ve come to expect of them; the podcast “Millennial” addressing the 20-something struggle of getting employed, staying employed, moving to a new city, and managing the ever complicated juggle of social and romantic relationships; and LinkedIn hitting up my inbox with suggested open jobs and surveys about highest paying jobs (it’s orthopedic surgeon, if you’re wondering), all while trying to gain control of my “financial portfolio” it’s an understatement to admit: money is as much a stressor as it is a necessity.
As a twenty-something year old in the city, I’m tethered to friends from the various eras in my life who have all made their way to the city of chaos. Each friend and friend group brings different conversations about money. With some friends, money is talked about only with ambiguous anxiety. With others it’s joked about with self-degradation (“That’s why they pay me the big bucks”, in reference to $15.00/hour). Yet, with most, money is talked about only in vagaries.
But the friend group that is of the most financial interest to me is group I see most often: my fit fam. This is the squad I CrossFit with, sweaty-adventure with, and eat copious amounts of SweetGreen with. This is the crew I go apple picking with on the weekend, take beach photos with on the sunny Summer days, and heat up KettleBell Kitchen with in the pm. The goons I laugh with and l ove with. While lovers, part-time gym goers, and coaches weave in and out of the dynamic with ease, the core seven are made up of three women, including myself, and three men.
The women, all creatives, make the 15-23 dollars an hour. The men, all in finance, all make six figure salaries and bonuses 10 times larger than any amount the women have had in our bank accounts at any given time. The men live in luxury apartments in Midtown. The women live in Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Harlem, respectively. The men wear suits and ties and $600 shoes to work. The women wear joggers, the new Reebok nano weaves, and Lulu sports bras and sports shirts. The men pay for their own flights home. The women do not. The men travel to Colorado, Jamaica, California, and Aruba. The women take the subway to the Rockaways and Coney Island and the train to New Haven and Long Island City.
The men make the big bucks. The women make jokes about getting paid the big bucks. The men schmooze clients. The women play therapist to customers and potential customers who’ve had a bad day, a bad week, a bad marriage.
The men splurge on assault bikes, high definition cameras, and perfume for their still-student girlfriends. The women splurge on new flannels from Madewell, leggings (at the employee discount) from Lulu’s, and homemade mac and cheese from an NYC favorite Jewish deli.
These differences don’t mark the friendship, nor do they come up in conversation often, if ever. We do not talk about the fact that the men make three, if not four or more times the amount the women make. We do not talk about the skill-sets valued in corporate America. We do not talk about what it’s like to be a creative living paycheck to paycheck or what it’s like to have real disposable income. We do not talk about the disparity between the cost of what they wear to work and what we wear to work. Or how much more their haircuts cost than ours.
But we do talk about work. We talk about the d-bag’s who make snarky comments. We talk about the incompetence of coworkers and the stinginess of bosses. We talk about late nights and early mornings. We talked about the atmosphere at work the day after Trump got elected. We talk about needing new work clothes and the important deadlines we have coming up. We explain why we’re frustrated when we come to CrossFit class eye-brows creased with frustration.
We talk about work and life and love. But money is glaringly outside the realm of what we talk about. And 95% (maybe higher) of the time, when we are all together, I don’t think about it.
Yet, the women talk about what they make amongst ourselves and the struggle of living mostly paycheck to paycheck, while the men talk amongst themselves about the oddity of being a 20-something who already makes what they do (for the purposes of this article, I asked).
The disparity between our checks isn’t as simple as “the men make more than the women because they are men” or “misogyny!”. Nor is the disparity as simple as the declarative statements, “creativity just doesn’t pay the way quantitative analysis does” or “even though the pay gap exists in pretty much all occupational fields, the jobs in traditionally male-dominated industries tend to pay better than female-dominated jobs”.
The issue is systemic. The issue is that in 2017 Women are paid 80 cents to every dollar a man makes. It’s far worse for women of color: Black women make just 64 cents and Hispanic women make a measly 54. The issue is that data suggests we won’t reach pay parity in the U.S. until 2152. The issue is we don’t want to wait another 125 years.
The issue is that we aren’t talking about it.
Sometimes- like the times I tried and failed to negotiate my wage or the times I calculated the disparity between what the men in my friend group make and the what the women make- it feels hopeless after all, there are so many things holding us back: discrimination, a scarcity of quality benefits, workplaces that are not supportive of women (and mothers), and our own lack of confidence. Women graduate (I graduated) into the real world prepared to succeed, we’re going to college in greater numbers than men, after all.
But within two years, we find ourselves questioning how to get ahead in the workplace. Once so sure of what we wanted and how to get there, we now feel stuck. Feet stuck in tar. Impossible. According to research, young women enter the workplace full of confidence, with 43% of female employees aspiring to top management roles, but unfortunately, after just two years on the job, “women’s aspiration levels drop by more than 60%…with only 16% of women” still thinking they can reach executive roles. It cannot be understated. This is a MAJOR problem.
But I can relate. I was ready to conquer my the world when I landed my first job as an editorial temp at a big-name women’s magazine. I worked my butt off, shared my opinion, pitched ideas, offered to write the LGBT-themed articles the brand was (is) so poorly missing. I took on every project offered to me. I asked to learn and be taught. I was passionate about the work and sure of my skills. But after six months I was still making $10/hour and my plea for more was shut down quicker than Trump shut down Hillary for every word out of her mouth.
I left that job for a better but still low paying job at a gym. And shortly after began a part-time gig working amongst some of the most highly talented creatives in the industry. Sometimes I feel like I’m backsliding in my career- not working on a straight path to the health and fitness full-time writing career I currently see as my end goal. Sometimes I feel like my passion for the work I do and hard work go unrecognized. Sometimes I think I could launch my own magazine platform (my version of conquering the world) other times I feel destined to a decade without benefits, a liveable salary, or even health insurance.
But I’m done sitting alone in my feelings of stagnancy and wallowing in the certainty that I’m undervalued.
Instead, I want to talk about the space between where I am and where I want to be, about how much (how little) I make. I want to talk about the financial strain of being a creative living in New York City. I want to talk about it with my “fit fam” squad. I want to talk about it at parties. On the roof over kombucha. At the end of the month when rent is due. I want to talk about it without shame.
That conversation starts here.