Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the gender pay gap whiling honoring those that fight for wage equality.
Nai Collymore-Henry, a graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, is one of these fighters.
Having worked with the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women as well as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Coalition, Collymore-Henry has been even more heavily invested in the issue since she entered the workforce.
She has been a vocal advocate for gender equality and a frontrunner in the fight for equal pay all her life, and reflected on the symbolic importance of Equal Pay Day in an interview with The Daily Free Press.
“Equal Pay Day means a lot of things,” Collymore-Henry said. “I feel very fortunate to work with people each and every day who are fighting to ensure that people are treated equally. Also on this day, I do remember that we’re all not at parity.”
Born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, Collymore-Henry said her first encounter with inequality was in grade school, where she realized that faculty treated her fellow classmates differently based on gender.
“If you do really well in middle school, you’ll be put in AP and honors classes and if you don’t do well in middle school, you have to kind of make that up in high school,” Collymore-Henry said. “I noticed that a lot of my peers who I knew were smart weren’t even being considered for honors or AP classes.”
When she got her first job at a local restaurant at 16, Collymore-Henry realized that the inequalities she was exposed to in the school system extended into the workplace as well.
“My first job in life was working at a restaurant and I discovered that I was making less than my male counterparts even though I had been there longer,” Collymore-Henry said. “It wasn’t a good feeling, but it also made me realize that it wouldn’t change unless I said something.”
After high school, Collymore-Henry attended BU, where she graduated from COM with a degree in public relations. She then used the skills she learned in college to foster professional relationships that allowed her to advocate for equal pay.
“I think that I’m most proud of the one-on-one relationships I’ve built through this and also being able to tell people pay negotiation and equal pay are achievable things,” Collymore-Henry said.
Collymore-Henry said one of the most important skills a person can have, especially when it comes to negotiating for equal pay, is the ability to stand up for oneself.
“It’s really important to advocate for your work, to be polite and respectful when negotiating but also being firm about the value of your work,” Collymore-Henry said. “Even though we have a pay equity law that encourages transparency and prevents employers from asking your salary straight, there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Diane Balser, a professor in the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program at BU, is one of Collymore-Henry’s former professors and close friend.
Balser spoke highly of Collymore-Henry, praising her work ethic and passion.
“She’s a very good student,” Balser said. “She’s very bright and did her own thinking, which I thought was most important. She was certainly ahead of students by a long shot in her creativity.”
Collymore-Henry took two courses taught by Balser, starting as an underclassman at BU. Balser said she always recognized Collymore-Henry as an advocate for change.
“She’s always been very goal-directed in terms of wanting to make a difference and wanting to change things ever since I’ve known her,” Balser said.
Balser said Collymore-Henry has been passionate about equality for as long as she can remember.
“As an African-American woman, she’s very aware of racism, and at the same time, [inequalities that] happen to all women,” Balser said.
Each year, the date of Equal Pay Day is determined by the current wage gap, corresponding to the additional number of days a woman must work to earn the same pay as her male counterpart, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity’s website. This year, the date is a week earlier than it was last year, indicating a slight decrease in the wage gap.
Collymore-Henry said she is pleased at the progress, but the fight is far from over.
“It’s exciting in the sense that we’re closer to parity with men,” Collymore-Henry said. “However, I still think that there is a lot of work to be done.”