Dolo Bazzle speaks at the '21' Experience | Photo by Focus Event Photography

Seven Takeaways From the ‘21’ Experience Women’s Conference

Unfair pay, the importance of networking and how to move away from "sticky floors": Here's what you need to know

Amid the heightened awareness of how little women are getting paid compared to men for the same work, activists are looking for change. March 11’s “21” Experience, A Gender Pay Gap Conference at the Oquendo Center in Las Vegas featured a panel of powerful women in roles ranging from a councilwoman to a financial executive. About 380 livestream viewers joined in to see what these leaders had to say. Here’s what we learned.

People don’t realize they’re being paid unfairly because they love their jobs so much.

It can be so easy to get lost in your passion for your work that you don’t pay much attention to how much you’re bringing home, says Erika Washington, executive director of local nonprofit Make It Work. But look out for how much work others around you are doing, especially men. It’s possible that he’s being paid more for equal or less work. Activists tried to get multiple bills passed, such as the proposal during the 2017 session of the Nevada Legislature that would have protected women from being penalized for asking about their male coworkers’ pay. However, even those that made it to Governor Brian Sandoval’s desk never got signed.

Keynote speakers Erin Bilbray, Dr. Lois Tarkanian, Michelle Ansani, Erika Washington, Dolo Bazzle, Maria Dent | Photo by Focus Event Photography

Employers will come up with a range of excuses for paying women less.

The most common one is that women have to take more time off to raise children, but sometimes employers will even question if women are capable of doing equal quality work, Washington says. Those are just excuses that make women feel like pay is a personal issue, one that could be fixed by simply working harder, rather than something for the government to address. Most people agree that women should be paid the same as men for equal work. The pitfall, Washington adds, is that there are different opinions on how to go about fixing the problem.

Men who pay women less aren’t necessarily bad people—it’s just a bad culture.

Mayor Pro Tempore and Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian emphasized how important it is to remember how far we’ve come and the culture we’re up against. One hundred years ago, she says, the abuse of women was much more accepted and all of a woman’s earnings automatically went back to her husband. Things have certainly come a long way, but a culture like that is going to take more work and even more time to fully overcome. “Change is incredibly challenging,” Tarkanian says.

Women, especially women of color, are disproportionately affected if they become caregivers at any point in their lives.

Maria Dent speaks at the ’21’ Experience | Photo by Focus Event Photography

Maria Dent, state director of Nevada AARP, says giving care to family members in need is often something women don’t see as work. After all, who would turn down caring for a loved one? But that often means doing a lot of unpaid work, the time commitment of which can lead to leaving a paid job if the demands become too much. Even though that’s a last resort, women are still doing this far more often than men, Dent says, hurting their economic positions long-term when the loss of promotions or raises that may have been offered during her time away are taken into account.

Networking needs to be a priority in order to succeed in today’s professional world, and women need to step it up in this area.

Whether it’s building a strong presence on LinkedIn or attending professional events and talking to people, networking is not optional for success, Dent says. That means women must take the time to not only update their LinkedIn profiles, but really making them stand out. Add achievements, not just duties, to your bullet points for each job, and make sure to highlight skills particularly relevant to the job you want in the future. In the offline world, take the initiative to go to networking events, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the people you meet.

Erika Washington speaks at the ’21’ Experience | Photo by Focus Event Photography

Breaking glass ceilings won’t happen until we get off sticky floors.

Michelle Ansani, a financial executive and part of the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement USA, has seen women shoot themselves in the feet professionally many times. Women often have a fear of not being good enough for more responsibility, or even for the role they already have (what is known as “imposter syndrome”), Ansani says. That perfectionism causes us to not apply for positions unless we feel 100 percent qualified—a hesitation men don’t tend to have. We cannot let our fear of failure stop us from going after what we want; it can turn us into our own worst enemies.

If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.

We need to get into a growth mind-set—one where we are not satisfied with staying put. Rather, we should constantly keep beating our personal best. Why hold ourselves back from turning what were once distant dreams into reality? Go for that promotion, run for office, start a new project or company, apply for that new job or whatever else you need to do to reach your potential.