“She Says” with Barb Yong, Founder of the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition
Barb Yong has been practicing law for 40 years, with the last 22 at the mid-sized Chicago law firm, Golan Christie Taglia LLP. During her tenure, she helped grow the firm from 10 attorneys to over 35 and is one of the very few law firms that are over 50% female, including equity partners, income partners, and associates. And while she is an advocate for equal pay, her practice is mainly focused on business litigation and bankruptcy law.
For the past 14 years, Barb has led the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition–an organization that focuses on the experiences of women who often face much wider wage pay gaps due to the compounding effects of gender and racial discrimination. To date, the coalition is made up of over 70 organizations, businesses, and government agencies with a common goal of eliminating the pay gap. And hold rallies once a year to educate and empower both employees and employers on the importance of equal pay.
In this month’s installment of “She Says,” Barb shares with us her motivation for founding the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition, her relationship with Women Employed, and the top five things women should know when advocating for a better salary.
What was the motivation behind founding the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition?
I have been practicing law for over 40 years, and very early in my career, I joined a number of women’s organizations that were either politically mission-driven or issue-driven. Some of which included Business and Professional Women (BPW), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the League of Women Voters, and Planned Parenthood. So, you can call me a feminist. I’ve also participated in lobbying and legislation in addition to being a member of legal organizations such as the Chicago Bar Association, Women’s Committee, and the Women’s Bar Association.
In 2007 or 2008, I was the state president of BPW. And in that role, I met Evelyn Murphy, the former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and an economist. She wrote a book called Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men and What to do About It and created the WAGE Project, which stood for Women Are Getting Even. Her concept was that across the country, groups of women were working on equal pay and eliminating the wage gap, or at least reducing the wage gap. The WAGE Project also had citywide hubs in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, that held events and workshops to disseminate information.
I was invited when Evelyn came to Chicago to form the city’s WAGE Hub, and met Melissa Josephs, former Women Employed Director of Equal Opportunity Policy, along with individuals from the YWCA and state agencies who were all working on equal pay. And as part of that initiative, I got the idea that we should host an annual event in Chicago around Equal Pay Day.
Now, I didn’t create the concept of Equal Pay Day, but I realized if we could get all these organizations to come together, and host one big event or rally at the Daley Center Plaza during the noon hour with inspirational speakers, then it would bring greater awareness to the wage gap. My idea was to host this event once a year with organizations like Women Employed, YWCA, and the Chicago Department of Human Rights. Our first Equal Pay Day Rally was 12 years ago, and we had 200 or 300 people in attendance.
So, your vision was to have a collective of organizations rallying together for women’s equal pay and it just grew into something bigger than what you imagined.
Absolutely. Bigger in terms of supporting organizations, planning committees, everything. I give a lot of credit to Women Employed, YWCA, and many other organizations. You all are actually paid staff, so it’s your job to do this work. I’m purely a volunteer with an idea, that’s all I ever was. But it’s a lot of your people who undertook a great deal of the heavy lifting. And I appreciated it so much.
When the pandemic happened, we still had events, but pivoted to virtual. And then, we recognized that there were different Equal Pay Days for various diverse groups. There’s the general Equal Pay Day, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Native Women’s Equal Pay Day, and Latina Equal Pay Day. With the latter being paid the least at 50 cents per every dollar that white men make. So, for the past couple of years, we’ve held our Equal Pay Day events on Latina Equal Pay Day which takes place in November.
In the past month, I retired from practicing law, but I wanted to make sure that the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition had a succession plan. As the founder, I would make a lot of the decisions. But I’m happy to have a handful of women who have agreed to take on leadership. I’m hoping that with this transition, the annual event will continue to grow in terms of stature and recognition, and make a real difference.
Tell me a little more about the relationship between Women Employed and the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition.
Back in 2007 or 2008, is when I met Melissa Josephs and was introduced to Women Employed. I was really impressed with the work that you all were doing and have attended your annual luncheon, The Working Lunch, and just loved the resources you provide for women in the Chicagoland area. Equal pay is, of course, part of Women Employed’s work, but you all do so much more than just that. I also love the legislative work that you all do and know that you did a lot in terms of the No Salary History bill that was passed.
At our annual rallies, Women Employed kept us educated on what kinds of legislation people should be supporting and calling their legislators about various bills. You all have not only helped with planning the actual rally, but you support us so that we can try to make even more of a difference. And so, I am a big fan of Women Employed and am so happy that we have maintained this relationship over the years.
What are the top five things women should know when it comes to negotiating or advocating for a better salary for themselves?
The very first thing I tell people is to research in advance what their salary expectations are, for the job that they’re applying for. And they can do that in a myriad of ways. One is to talk to other people at other companies who are doing what it is that they want to do because people are usually willing to share that kind of information. Also, they can visit salary.com, where they’ll find the recommended salary range for the job they’re applying for based on their location and years of experience. So, I encourage people to do their homework.
Number two, you should have a range in mind. What tends to happen is employers, rather than making the initial offer will ask what you’re looking for. And if you’re not prepared to answer that question, or you are prepared but are undercutting yourself, the employer could offer you less than what the job should be paying. So, you should always be prepared to answer that question.
The third is to be prepared to say no. If they don’t offer you anything close to what you should be earning, decline the offer. Sometimes that’ll cause them to rethink and then offer more. But don’t just jump at the first offer, just because you need a job. Keep in mind that saying no is a good negotiation technique.
Fourth is when you actually get the offer, take a moment to think about it. Let them know that you appreciate the offer, but you will get back to them. And use that time to talk to other people about it. Then come back and negotiate. Tell them that you appreciate the offer but feel that you’re worth more. And the employer will either say yes or no. Oftentimes, you can get more by just asking. Or if the employer does say no, see if there are other things you can ask for. Such as salary adjustments at your mid-year or annual review. And then take that as an opportunity to negotiate again.
And finally, know that everything is negotiable. Whether it’s working in person or remotely, the kind of computer equipment they give you, whether they give you a phone, anything towards transportation, daycare, or health benefits, everything can be negotiated. So, don’t just think about salary. Think about benefits and other aspects of the job that you can also negotiate for.
As you know, the theme for Women Employed’s 50th year is, “Smashing the Status Quo.” In what ways has the Equal Pay Day Chicago Coalition smashed the status for women in helping to close the wage gap?
Well, number one, we’ve brought a lot of awareness to the wage gap, and how it comes to be that women are getting paid less. At least once a year, and hopefully more often than that, it’s at the top of mind, for employees and employers, in terms of women and minorities being paid fairly.
Also, I think we have done a significant amount of education so that women know their rights. The Illinois Department of Labor and the EEOC are both equal pay day supporters and work very hard to educate people on their rights. And other organizations are being intentional about publishing workers’ rights in various languages so that non-English speaking workers are educated.
And then lastly, I would say, talking to people about negotiating salary. Even as a lawyer, I didn’t know that you could negotiate your salary until 2007 or 2008. It was just something that I hadn’t thought about. So, if we can educate and empower the workforce, to know what they can do, it can make a huge difference. And it’s been great that so many women and minorities are business owners and are now cognizant of how they pay their workers–which is making an even bigger difference. So, I would say that we have empowered the workforce by changing the minds of employers to be fair.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! You are protected by law if you talk to your coworkers about your pay. Under both Illinois and federal law, it is illegal for employers to ban you from talking about your pay, benefits, or other compensation to other people — and if you’re comfortable, that can be a good way to find out if you’re being paid less than your coworkers. Learn about this and your other equal pay rights at http://equalpayillinois.org.