So, I sat on a panel at the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) National Capital Area (NCA) Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) and Expo last week. How’d that happen? The panel was about the next generation of proposal professionals (a.k.a., “Better Know a Millennial”) and, while there are many young women entering my field, there are very few young men who are (a) known quantities to the APMP-NCA leadership and (b) willing to sit in front of a crowd and answer questions about generational differences in our workplaces.
In short: I was offered the rare opportunity to be a token dude and jumped at it.
Most of the panel was easy. We practiced a few times on the phone, so we all came in with a few canned stories for each of our moderator’s questions. If anything, it got easier at the panel itself because we could finally see each other and figure out who’s about to talk. This was critical for me because, as Token Dude, I didn’t want to interrupt any of my peers and become Token Mansplainer.
But, then we opened up for questions from the audience. And that’s when things got exciting — mostly because I figured there wouldn’t be any. It was the last session before the bar opened, right?
Now, you’ll have to forgive me here because I don’t remember the exact phrasing of the question (thanks, open bar afterward), but I believe someone asked us how we felt about women in our field — proposal and business development — earning $20,000 – 30,000 less a year than men. (If the woman who asked sees this, please correct me if I got this wrong.)
I didn’t answer. For a couple of reasons:
1. I was caught off guard. Remember, the rest of the panel to this point was at least semi-rehearsed.
2. I deferred to the women on the panel. I didn’t want to act as a white knight when I was already sitting with three people more qualified to speak to their own experience.
I don’t regret not answering, but after having three days to mull it over, I know how I would respond if, say, I were the only person asked. After all, I may not be a woman in my field, but if the statistic is true — that my peers, including the ones I sat up on that stage with — are being paid less than me for no other reason except their gender, then what does that make me if I’m willing to go along with it?
So, in hindsight (which is how I’m a Jeopardy! champion in my own mind), here’s how I’d answer if ever asked again:
If that statistic — that women in business and proposal development are paid $20,000 to $30,000 less a year than equally qualified men — is true, then that’s abhorrent. Because, for that level of disparity, that means that this isn’t just an issue of one or two men being better salary negotiators than women — it’s companies knowingly paying a large portion of their workforce less across the industry.
It means that, since is the norm, I can only wonder if my own employer does this. That my peers, who are mostly women, are working the same crazy proposal hours I am, yet their work is somehow less valued than mine.
I don’t know if my employer pays women with my same level of experience and ability less than me. I assume not because I’m led by two extraordinary managers who are women, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have full control over who does and doesn’t get paid more.
But, I want to believe that, if I found out that my employer does pay unequal salaries and wages for equal work, I would start looking for another job, even if it meant giving up a larger salary.
I don’t want to participate in a system that rewards me and undervalues someone else for an arbitrary reason. Because, if a company can justify discrimination or preferential treatment on the basis of gender — something we all know is wrong — then they can easily undervalue performance for less controversial reasons.
A company that can pay a woman less for being a woman can decide to pass me over for a raise or promotion because of my politics — which are garbage to most government contractors, I’m sure. Or my sexual preferences. Or because I’m not sufficiently manly enough — like I said in the panel, man, I hate golf.
I also said in the panel that I like working for and with women. I want to believe that my peers are as valued by my company as I value them. And I want to work in an environment where all of my colleagues, regardless of identification, are treated fairly because that’s not just good for women, members of the LGBT community, or ethnic minorities — that’s good for everyone.
Anyway, this panel was a great experience, one that I believe will shape my future career. I should probably do things like this more often. And maybe next time, it won’t take me three whole days to form a coherent thought about a complicated issue.