Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m a 23-year-old woman, working my first professional job. My field overall has a mix of genders, but the company I work for is very male and white. I knew this when I took the job, but it’s also the highest paying and most prestigious opportunity I had, and I need to pay off private loans from college. I knew I would face sexism, and I mostly manage to ignore it or play dumb. What I didn’t expect was this treatment from women.
There’s one other woman on my team, “Caroline.” She’s in her 40s, and we’re in the same role (I’m a little advanced for my age but I’m also seeing this as a sign that women don’t get promoted here). She often puts me down in front of other people and is prickly to work with. Recently, management announced new plans for improving issues at the company.
They are going to start a diversity, equity, and inclusion board. My manager told me that Caroline, me, and the six other white women that work at our location would be leading it. How do I push back against this? I don’t have the power to make change, there are no non-white people on this board, and I feel like I can’t try to team up with Caroline or other longer-term women here to push back. I don’t want to do unpaid work—I just want to stay here one more year for financial reasons and then go somewhere better. What do I do?
—One More Year
Dear One More Year,
Your situation goes against every best practice for forming Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) boards. A company shouldn’t mandate that employees (especially only the underrepresented staff) sit on the board without asking for volunteers; DEI work shouldn’t be extra work without compensation, and the committee shouldn’t consist of low-level employees without the power to make organizational changes.
Can you push back on the board assignment? If you think your manager will be receptive, try to tell them that you are concerned the committee will pull focus from [your main work priority] or emphasize you don’t have the expertise needed to lead a DEI initiative (check out these tips for turning down additional projects gracefully).
If you don’t think you’ll be able to bow out of the board, then your first task as a DEI lead is to recommend that the company hire a professional DEI consultant to do an organizational analysis. Make that your primary goal for the year you remain at the organization. Emphasize that hiring DEI professionals, not untrained staff, is the best practice.
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