Pay Equity in Our Lifetime
Updated: Jan 14
A Labor of Love & Justice
The day I sued Microsoft for gender discrimination in pay equity, I looked in the hotel mirror and saw my mother’s Chamorro eyes looking back, though she’d been gone four years. My mother died of breast cancer at age 60, never having the opportunity to retire and before seeing gender pay equity for herself or for her daughters.
So, too, will I die before we see gender pay equity for all races.
So will my daughter, and hers. And yours.
Pay equity for women is projected to be achieved anywhere between 50-205 years from now, unless we do something to speed up the slow moral arc of the universe. With the death of Supreme Court Justice and champion for gender equality Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and the appointment of a replacement to the U.S. Supreme Court who may not protect the progress toward equality that was so hard won for women, it is even more urgent to keep pushing on these issues where our progress toward gender equality is so very fragile.
Time to Change the Game
On Christmas Eve 2019, we were given a lump of coal when we were told that our gender pay discrimination case against Microsoft was not granted class certification. An increasingly conservative judiciary has severely curtailed the ability of employees and consumers to bring class actions in recent years, and our case was a victim of that unfortunate trend in the law, although the underlying merits were strong. Gender discrimination in the workplace is very real – but the ability of the legal system to challenge it is under attack.
I knew I had decisions to make. I either had to continue my individual case or find another way forward for systemic change.
I decided to start two new initiatives for change:
A gender and economic equity law center at a U.S. university focused primarily on financial empowerment through claims in employment and related situations
A foundation to continue fighting for pay equity in our lifetimes called the Pay Equity Now Foundation (PEN Foundation), because the PEN is mightier than the patriarchy!
My initial donation into the PEN Foundation will go toward creating the law center at a university, named for my late mother, with a clear pay equity mandate. The goal of the law center will be to work on legislative and regulatory reforms that strengthen women’s ability to be paid fairly, ensure fair class action litigation pathways, and help legally hold violators accountable when they fail to pay equitably.
The foundation, and the law center funded from it, are a better investment for my children’s future than winning a lawsuit. Aside from investing in climate crisis solutions, it’s the one of the best chances my son and daughter have to inherit a better world.
The Only Deal on the Table Is Equity Ad Infinitum
If organizations are sincere about pay equity, they need to stop ignoring the problem, paying their lawyers more to defend them against complaints than they’d ever consider paying the women suffering from pay gaps. Ignoring a flawed system or falling back on lip service to the cause with no real change is one way to ensure that it never gets fixed.
I offered Microsoft the chance to end our legal battle and instead partner together towards the cause of pay equity, a goal which Microsoft claims to support. I asked that Microsoft sign the PEN Foundation’s Pay Equity Now Pledge and make a donation to the foundation – the amount of money didn’t matter, since I was fully funding the foundation myself regardless. Microsoft declined. I think that speaks volumes as to what they really think about women and minorities, and what they believe they can get away with. If companies like Microsoft will not take these steps voluntarily, we must all decide together as a society what we’re willing to do to move equity to the forefront of every company’s priorities.
The legal system failed me and many other women to help us hold Microsoft and other companies accountable for gender discrimination that manifested in pay inequity over many years. I refuse to stop fighting for pay equity for women and racial minorities, and I have found a way forward regardless of Microsoft’s resistance to positive change.
I have dropped my lawsuit because my funds are better put towards solutions that help to implement both real change and demonstrate strong commitment to pay equity in our lifetime for women around the world, leaving behind organizations like Microsoft that pantomime pay equity, while resisting any real commitment to change.
It’s important to note that by dropping my case, I did not sign a Non-disclosure Agreement or receive a payment of any type. I’m free to focus on pay inequity without any limitations, using both my voice and my hard-earned assets to put a spotlight on companies like Microsoft, who are on the wrong side of history. These companies will be remembered for their resistance to change as the rest of the modern world takes decisive action towards pay equity in our lifetime. It is a proven economic fact that companies with diverse leadership and workforce do better financially. Their refusal to do what is right, and in their best interest financially in the long run, is bizarre but unsurprising.
What Can Organizations and Individuals Do to Help?
All companies should sign the PEN Foundation’s Pay Equity Now Pledge, as well as make real pay, bonus, hiring, assignment, and promotion rate changes that truly put all genders on equal footing as human beings.
It is not enough to be “not racist” and “not sexist” – one must be anti-racist and anti-sexist to actively combat systemic conscious and unconscious bias. It’s also not enough to talk about change without doing the work to change into a society that has eliminated all pay gaps across gender and racial lines.
Take the Pay Equity Now Pledge and start down the road of enforcing pay equity. No more excuses.
Correct pay inequity where discovered and consider publishing a transparency report on your progress toward economic justice.
Identify and fix bugs in your hiring, reviewing, and promotion practices that lead to pay inequity.
Consider making a donation to the Pay Equity Now Foundation.
Urge your employer to take the Pay Equity Now Pledge.
Use the Pay Equity Now Pledge to help decide on your next job, pointing it out to prospective employers that you expect pay equity audits and corrections if you take the job, and that you’d like them to take the pledge.
If you’d like to donate to the Pay Equity Now Foundation, please use the contact form on the website, and you’ll be notified when the foundation is accepting individual donations.
Corporate matched donations will be especially important coming from male supporters who work at companies that are defendants in active gender pay lawsuits, like Google and Oracle. I welcome Microsoft employee donations - ask your employer to match! Use your collective power and influence to vote with your donation dollars as a referendum on how highly you value a workplace that does not tolerate or continue gender and racial gaps in base pay, bonuses, or promotions.
Everyone Can Join Us for Change
Even though Microsoft has refused to pledge to work with me toward pay equity, I know I’m not going to be fighting for pay equity alone. I’m also certain there are many men who want to see economic justice done once and for all, and who will fight with us to promote change at their organizations, not just because they have a wife or a daughter – but because women’s rights are human rights.
This fight for pay equity justice belongs on all of our shoulders.
Why? Because we’re not fighting for only ourselves – we are fighting for my mother. For all mothers. For my sisters. For all sisters. For my daughter. For all daughters. For non-binary people. For all people.
The late great Justice Ruth Bader “Ginsburg offered an addendum to Martin Luther King Jr.’s suggestion that the arc of the moral universe eventually bends towards justice: “if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.””
We won’t achieve pay equity in our lifetime by quietly waiting for karma to cash in. To win this unwinnable challenge, we must write our own rules. Let’s all sit on the end of the arc of history, and with our collective weight, bend it more sharply towards justice now, not a few more lifetimes from now.
Women’s rights are human rights.
Black lives matter and deserve fair pay.
We’re not playing the white supremacist patriarchy’s games anymore, and it is my hope that soon no one will ever have to again.
If we reject the script of patriarchy and white supremacy, if we write our own rules, if we stand together for economic justice for all genders and races, then history will note that the pen was indeed mightier than the patriarchy.
Game Changers: Kelly Dermody, Holly, Katie Moussouris, Anne Shaver. Photo taken by Judge Kobayashi.