Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Problem of Pay

Before I was a writer and editor, I was a scientist.

Not, mind you, that I ever stop being any of those things. I have always written stories, and I have always been curious about the way the world works.

But I once made my living in science, and now I make it in words. And this has been enlightening.

This year, my second in business as a full-time writer and editor, I have already made an income equal to my highest salary as a biochemist. And I worked in biotech for 13 years.

I wasn't a bad scientist, either. I was far from great. No Nobel prizes have my name on them. But a few journal articles do, as well as a hell of a lot of reagents out there in the life sciences world (or they would, if I had put my name on every product I made or tested).

There was certainly no dearth of money to be shared in biotech, either. The company I worked for earned a profit (profit, not revenue) of nearly $2 billion the year they laid me off. Although I don't have hard data on the incomes of my colleagues, I do know the ballpark figures for a few of their salaries.

And the sad fact is that the men were paid more than the women. Not just when they did the same job, but even when the men were in lower pay grades. Men in lower positions than mine with fewer years at the company had higher salaries than I did.

The same isn't true in publishing. Women dominate the field. Most of the contractors I work with on projects are women, and nearly all of my clients are women. Women run the publishing houses I work with. Women write the contracts, approve the content, sign the checks.

And, as a woman in publishing, I am paid rather well. Not enough to afford a summer home and a yacht, mind you, but certainly enough to pay my bills, take a vacation somewhere exotic, and put some away in savings. I am paid equally well as I was in biotech, but I only have a couple years' experience under my belt. I can only imagine how much more I will earn in the next decade.

And this, at its core, is one of the biggest challenges women in science face. The overt sexism is obnoxious, but we lift our chins and shrug it off. But when we set our sights on the future, when we think about mortgages and student loans and car payments, we must confront the reality of the wage gap. This industry that demands our late nights and weekends, that insists we get results at any cost, that challenges every idea we have and insists on proof three times over, will also pay us less than our male counterparts, or even our male subordinates. Men in science tell us we don't work as hard and we don't know as much as they do, then pay us less to ensure we stay discouraged.

Women invented wireless technology and wrote the code that sent humans to the moon. Women discovered radioactivity and the structure of DNA. Women determined the composition of stars and demonstrated the existence of the Higgs Boson particle. If we want women to keep discovering, inventing, and engineering, we have to pay them. We have to make science worth their time and effort. We have to fund their work and their lives.