The Implications of Workplace Racism, Sexism and Pay Inequity: Our Kids Lose
The Gender Pay Gap.
MoveOn.org posted this image with the hashtag #EqualPayDay. Lots of people are talking about it. It’s a deeper wound that it seems.
I developed my curriculum 10 years ago to teach high school students how to navigate the world of work, build careers and follow their passion. I included a unit on “-isms” in the workplace. Ask any of my students to tell you about an “ism” – they will. This was an impassioned unit to cover each year. My students researched and became experts on forms of discrimination. They debated and gave presentations and discussed their rights. I was determined that they be prepared for the “real world” – but I was disheartened that I had to teach them how to navigate hatred in order to be agents of change from the inside.
Ten years later, not much has changed. A hashtag told me that today is #EqualPayDay. Here is a moment of reflection from my work teaching about “isms” that will show the implications of the inequity in our society – and workplace.
Teaching About “isms”
Years ago, during a discussion about sexism, racism and pay gaps in the workplace, one of my students, a Latina, said to the class with deep emotion welling up inside of her: “I am on the bottom of the ladder.”
This was one of those moments when I knew that the best thing I could do as a teacher was to close the doors, declare the classroom a safe space where anything shared would not leave the room and let my student lead the conversation. My seniors all agreed, and for the remainder of the class, the boys listened respectfully as the girls opened up about their thoughts, observations and fears about how they would be seen and treated in the workplace.
My curriculum was jam-packed with workplace readiness lessons – lots of presentations, debates, Socratic seminars on current issues, hands-on learning outside of school, mock interviews, networking with Boston’s professionals and so much more. I wanted the kids to be as prepared as possible for the realities of life after school. It was fun, exciting, nerve-wracking, personally challenging and at times heartbreaking. I taught them the truth.
There was nothing I could say or do to change the reality outside of my classroom that day, but I promise you that the conversation my students had that day was one of the most powerful moments in my six years of teaching – for me and those 24 high school seniors. My students that day, and for the duration of my time as a teacher, were 90% Black and Latino. As 12th graders, they were already aware of the harsh realities of racism and sexism in the world, and as much as I wanted to, I could not tell them that the workplace was any different. I could only educate them, and tell them every chance I got that I would show them the “rules to the game” of the world of work, and once they were inside the workplace they would have the RIGHT to work to change current realities. I promised that I would do my part, but I needed them to get into the work world, face these terrible inequities, and do everything in their power to change things.
It felt unfair to ask this of kids, but I live in a world where I need them to be ambassadors for equality as much as they needed me to teach them the ropes, and to spend time in my classroom learning their rights and talking about their concerns and fears for the future.
OUR actions and INactions impact our kids. This is far deeper than we realize. If they already see themselves as unequal, what an unfair burden we have saddled them with, don’t you think?
About the Author:
Amy L. Carrier is an advocate for children, true education reform and community engagement in the classroom. She has been building new solutions in education since 2000. She is known for empowering teens to become entrepreneurs teaching them how to create their own unique solutions to problems in their communities. Amy has been interviewed on CNN about teaching business and entrepreneurship in schools.
Amy founded Empowerment Through Education in 2012 and serves as a coach, speaker, educational consultant and advocate for educational change that puts children and their futures first.
Follow and read more of Amy’s writing on her blog and connect on LinkedIn.