Last month, Sarah Silverman teamed up with Levo and encouraged women to ask for a raise.
I followed her lead. Spoiler alert: it worked.
Prior to watching Silverman’s video, I honestly had never thought about asking for a raise. I was under the impression that I was fortunate to make what was offered to me, that I was lucky to be employed, and that I did not deserve more.
I am a Special Education teacher and have been teaching for eight years now. Last year, I was hired at a small public charter high school in Denver, The Academy of Urban Learning (AUL). The school serves students in at-risk situations like poverty, gangs, homelessness, drug abuse, and neglect. I am the only Special Education teacher employed at our school, and my work spans physical disabilities, specific learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and serious emotional disabilities.
A bit of backstory: during the 1980s, Denver Public Schools (DPS), along with many others, were sued for not meeting the needs of students who are English Language Learners. As a result, each public school must have a literature class devoted to these students, and each DPS teacher must complete two years of English Language Acquisition (ELA) training. Prior to this year, my school did not have an ELA literature class. When my boss presented the need to the other two literature teachers, they politely declined. When she approached me, I agreed to take this class onto my work load. Not only was I writing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) by myself, I was now in charge of completing ELA state standard tests, ELA identification screening tests, as well as developing and creating my own ELA class curriculum.
After falling in love with Silverman’s #Ask4More challenge and assessing my extra work load, I realized that my salary is nowhere near adequate and I deserved higher pay. So I did it — I asked for a raise. Meanwhile, there was a part of me that believed I was overstepping my bounds and that I did not, in fact, deserve the increase in my salary. But I am happy to say that I recently signed my contract for next year and I did receive a raise.
Plain and simple: Sarah Silverman helped me realize in a tangible way that I am worth more. In asking for a raise, I advocated for myself and my needs, and this boosted my income, sense of self worth and self esteem. By explicitly asking for a pay increase, I acknowledged that women are worth more than bottom-bracket wages. Silverman advocating for pay equality is both a charged public wake-up call and gentle nudge to women who may be hesitant to acknowledge their financial worth.
Every time a celebrity addresses an issue publicly, that subject is drawn into the limelight. The public engages, dialogues, and is ideally more inclined to pay heed to that issue. The disadvantaged population (in this case, women, due to the gender wage gap) may not even be aware of the different types of oppression and inequalities they experience, especially for those individuals with intersecting identities (i.e., women of color). But when a celebrity addresses realities as Silverman has done, a public interest is piqued, the topic is put under a certain kind of scrutiny, and meaningful change can result.
The raise I received is proof that advocacy of any kind is worth more than pocket change.
Silverman may have even taught women how to advocate for themselves simply by using her voice and the Internet. It is not enough to be aware of oppression, one must actively fight to end it. Silverman has provided us with an advocacy strategy to help close the gender wage gap. Of course, complex systemic change is also necessary. But this is something we can all do today.
Women are still paid 78 cents to every dollar a man makes. And the numbers are even starker for women of color. It has been repeated over and over: women deserve equal pay for equal work. Thanks to thoughtful action, thousands of women were reminded of their incentive and “permission” (as if we needed it!) to speak up, demand more, and act now. Anything we can do to chisel away at inequality today is a step towards closing the gender wage gap tomorrow.