My first job as a teenager was running the cash register at a strip mall pizza franchise in suburban Florida. My $5 an hour was essential income for our poor family, even though it required me to learn new survival skills — like fending off aggressive co-workers and handsy patrons.
Turns out I wasn’t alone in that.
Women-led labor organizations report that sexual harassment, wage theft, intimidation and even labor trafficking are distressingly common for low-wage women workers still today. Even when the situation doesn’t rise to the level of outright abuse, the gender pay gap persists across all kinds of professions — from tax preparers to property managers and retail workers.
Two decades after my pizza parlor job, I’m helping to run a nonprofit focused on inequality in America. I’m the second in command at my workplace, so I don’t have to think as often about equal pay or advancement as I used to.
But I wear the scars of how I got here, which began in my childhood watching my mother. She worked long hours as a secretary, plus weekend shifts at a bar just to pay the rent. I’m sure she would have given a kidney for work/life balance, if only she’d had better health insurance.