Economy

Why Doesn't Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Fight for a Minimum Wage Increase When Most Low-Wage Workers Are Women?

Here's a battle Sandberg could lean into.

In 2011, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, the handbook du jour of women's empowerment, exhorted the graduates of Barnard College to change the world. "You are the promise for a more equal world," she said. "Women all around the world are counting on you." Sheryl was right. Women are the promise of a more equal world, and right now, today, they are at the center of a critical -- and imminently winnable -- fight that would instantly create a measurably more equal nation. So why isn't Sheryl helping them? If she really wants a more equal world, why isn't she actively, aggressively and publicly advocating for the one thing happening right now that would make American women quantifiably closer to equality than they are now? If she really believes that "we must raise both the ceiling and the floor," why isn't she smack dab in the middle of the fight to raise the floor for millions of American women? Is Banning Bossy really more important?

In two weeks, the U.S. Senate will vote -- or not vote -- on a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. This one change would shrink the gender wage gap by nearly five percent, according to a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. More than 70 percent of restaurant servers are women. More than 75 percent of women making minimum wage are over 20, and many have children to support. These are not pompom girls looking for lipstick money. Given that raising the minimum wage is the most achievable equality issue on the table, why isn't Sheryl sitting at that table -- better yet, pounding on that table -- with all the rest of us "working together toward equality"?

Is the multimillionaire author of the self-professed "sort of" feminist manifesto unaware of the fact that we are in the middle of the most important -- and again, most achievable -- women's issue of our time? Other women leaders seem to grasp the centrality of the issue. President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Terry O'Neill calls raising the minimum wage "absolutely essential to empowering women today." Nancy Duff Campbell, a founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, says raising the minimum wage is "more critical than ever in the fight for equal pay for women." President of political powerhouse EMILY's List Stephanie Schriock says raising the minimum wage is "one of the most important things we can do." Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, calls it "a defining issue of our time."

In her book, Sheryl poses the question: How are we going to take down the barriers that prevent more women from getting to the top? Isn't a better question in this ripe political moment: How are we going to take down a national wage structure that keeps millions of women on the bottom?

Women are the majority of the population; they make the majority of purchasing decisions for their families. Most importantly, more women than men vote. Politicians know that. And politicians walking into midterm elections particularly know that. Now is the time to tell these politicians to raise the minimum wage... and November is the time to fire them if they don't. And make no mistake about it; while raising the minimum wage is certainly an election year issue, it is far from a partisan issue. A full 76 percent of women support raising the minimum wage.

Did you hear the one about the feminist leader who did nothing to solve the biggest problem facing American women? People stopped thinking she was the "baddest bitch" in America. So Sheryl, let's not "keep talking." And instead, why don't you start doing? Here are some suggestions:

  • Hold a press conference -- before the Senate vote -- to announce a national campaign to get the 1.6 million women who bought Lean In to lean on their elected leaders to raise the minimum wage;
  • As COO of Facebook, demand vendors pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour;
  • Ask the 14,000 "Lean In Circles" to host viewing parties with their local elected officials of the new HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck, which follows one low wage woman as she works seven days a week and still struggles to support her children. After the movie, hold 14,000 simultaneous press conferences. Force local media to cover this issue and in so doing force politicians to support it. April 8 -- Equal Pay Day -- seems like a good date for both events;
  • Ask Ban Bossy compatriot Condoleezza Rice to call every Republican she knows on the Hill to demand decent wages for the 40 percent of female minimum wage workers who are women of color. If she says that Republicans don't support a higher minimum wage, ask her to call TV pundit Bill O'Reilly, former publisher of The American ConservativeRon Unz, and GOP mega donor Peter Thiel;
  • Ask Anna Maria Chávez -- the first Latina CEO of the Girl Scouts and your other Ban Bossy ally -- to enclose a note endorsing the higher minimum wage in every box of cookies sold this year. Include the phone number of the U.S. Senate (202-224-3121). A single Girl Scout from Troop 20134 in Arizona could generate 3,901 calls to Senator John McCain, one of "the persuadables";
  • Ask your old boss Larry Summers to deliver five speeches this year exploring just how "constructive" raising the minimum wage would be for American women. It's a win-win. Women get more money and Larry Summers gets retired as the voodoo doll of American feminists.
  • Ask Beyonce, Jane Lynch and Jennifer Garner to cut a new video dedicated to the women who work 40 hours a week and make $14,500 a year. Call it Ban Poverty.

Sheryl, you believe that "the shift to a more equal world will happen person by person" and "we will move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in." You are right. We will. So lean in. Don't empower women. Pay them. And trust them to empower themselves.

Erica Payne is founder of the Agenda Project.