Last week, I heard a story on NPR’s Morning Edition about women choosing lower-paying jobs, and it made me think. An economist who studies the effect college majors have on income suggested that women often choose fields that result in them earning less than they otherwise might. It got me thinking, why?
As an advocate of women and equal pay, I urge women to negotiate for raises and to make compensation advancement a priority. And yet, as I listened to this program, it made me reflect on the fact that while money is important, it doesn’t guarantee happiness or professional fulfillment. And thinking even more: that women may be the ones who are more tuned in to this idea.
I learned this firsthand coming out of college. I graduated with a degree in finance and set my sights on Wall Street. I arrived at a top investment bank with a number of other college graduates, and we joined an analyst “class.” Almost immediately, I stood out like a sore thumb. Most of the people in my analyst class were Ivy League graduates who were savvy to the ways of Wall Street. I was a fish out of water – a girl from Texas with a southern accent and flowered dresses. And if the culture wasn’t bad enough, I found the job to be unfulfilling and the hours exhausting. I was miserable. And even though I had worked for years to get a job like this, I decided to quit and work for a start-up non-profit for half my prior salary. It was a life-changing decision for the better, and the experience was one of the most exciting and rewarding in my career.
Even though I am a compensation advocate, I know that it’s basic knowledge that money isn’t the most important thing for lasting happiness and career satisfaction. However, I still see that many people get caught up in the “salary-race”, and leave personal contentment on the wayside. Yet, as the NPR program suggested, women are more commonly found in mission-oriented careers, such as education, social work or health care. Thus, it is clear that money often isn’t a primary motivator, and that women especially tend not to prioritize their compensation when seeking out a career.
If you want true professional fulfillment, choose a field or a job because it is your passion. And then, work to be paid equitably. Unless you are born into a wealthy family or marry rich, you will spend the majority of your life working. The average full-time employee spends 65-75% of a year working and that is far too much time to be doing something you don’t love. And I am a firm believer that if you follow your passion, the money will come.
The ideal balance is a job that is fulfilling AND pays a competitive wage. Closing the gender pay gap is not about taking the most high-paying job, it is about ensuring that women are paid commensurately with their male counterparts in whatever they chose to do.