Why the Wage Gap Won’t Close

doulas, free, money, wage gap, equality

The last few years have been full of discourse surrounding gender inequality and the associated wage gap.  People blame employers, politics, and policies. While these factors definitely contribute to why the wage gap won’t close in the United States, the biggest hurdle to closing the wage gap is women themselves.

Yea. Us. Spend time in any online forum or Facebook group where women discuss their occupation and earnings, and you’ll see that there is a great reluctance to ask for a fair wage, and thus, earn more. This is especially true for women who have the potential to control their own income by setting a fair wage for themselves as entrepreneurs.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 50% of women are in either service-related, education, or healthcare professions. These are the jobs that are characterized as being caring and supportive professions. Teachers, nurses, social services, doulas, yoga instructors…jobs that are traditionally considered “of the heart”.

As an entrepreneur/business owner in the field of helping people, I see this aversion almost daily.  Words like “icky” get tossed around when I or another birth professional talk about setting fees conducive to the living wage.  We get accused of “not caring enough or our priorities being misaligned”.  When I, or a colleague, try to explain that by charging a living wage (which, by the way is calculated as the same for men and women), we are working to put food on the table, pay mortgage, or go on vacation, we are told  that it’s wrong, or often: “my partner takes care of all that”.

By failing to recognize their own privilege, they have effectively sent a couple of damaging messages.  One is that a doula is a savior who can guarantee outcomes.  After all, why else would the needs of a poor pregnant woman supersede the needs of the woman (and her family whom she supports) providing a valuable service? This is a problem because, in addition to the inherent classism, it confuses the public about our role and our value, but that’s for another day.

Problem number two (and more to the point about the wage gap) arises when you consider that the doula/business owner might be disadvantaged, herself. How can she break the cycle of poverty if she volunteers her time, materials, and skills, especially if she feels its a requirement?  Even if she isn’t poor, as in the woman whose partner is the provider, her privilege clouds her ability to see beyond her own circumstance. She fails to recognize or acknowledge the very real issue of the wage gap.

And lastly, the rhetoric encouraging doulas to volunteer or congratulating those who are low-cost and “accessible” because of this false notion of business autonomy is damaging to every other business-owning doula.  It’s simple economy and it’s called undercutting.  The consumers are confused and the women doulas are often underpaid.  We have effectively rejected the truth that we are worth a higher monetary value-one that can be equal to men.

Providing a heart-felt service isn’t mutually exclusive to earning excellent compensation. If we tell women they are wrong or don’t genuinely care, we won’t ever equally earn.  If we can’t accept that these professions, this profession, is worthy of pay needed to sustain and thrive, the wage gap will continue.