I Took My Engagement Ring Off During the Job Hunt - And It Helped
I remember the first time I felt like my gender really held me back, like everything my mom had told me about the struggles of women to be paid equally, get promoted, and keep the forward momentum of their careers going post-children was real.
It wasn't the time the insurance company listed my husband's name on a policy even though I'd negotiated and paid for it. It wasn't the moment that one of my co-founders snatched a piece of cheesecake off my plate without asking at a company party, telling me "you don't need that." It wasn't the moment that my small tech company was acquired by a pair of men that literally (openly) made hiring choices based on women's appearances. It was at a networking meeting arranged for me by a badass female entrepreneur.
I was on the job hunt and thinking I might want to go into restaurant consulting. She introduced me to someone experienced in the biz, and I showed up for our meeting at a trendy hotel hoping that I could get some good advice on what the day-to-day of that kind of job looked like, and whether my skills were a good fit. We made some small talk, moved on to my work experience, and then got down to the nitty-gritty of what I was looking for. He pointed at my engagement ring, paused, and said, "Well, you don't really have to worry about money, right?"
I wish I could say I had a better answer. In reality, it went something like this: "Actually, I do. I have to pay rent, and I have a wedding coming up." But I was stumbling over myself, a sense of complete and total confusion roaring in my ears. Who was he to ask me to discuss my personal finances, just because I was wearing a piece of jewelry? Who was he to assume that I wasn't the breadwinner, that my monetary contributions to the household weren't as important, and never would be?
Reality check: I had a (slightly) higher salary than my then-fiancé. I worked my ass off at my job AND multiple freelance projects. I'd successfully doubled my salary within four years. I paid my half the rent, my half of all of our bills, and absorbed the pervasive "female tax" that makes everything from dry cleaning to personal care products more expensive. And still managed to contribute to a savings account and IRA every month.
It's not that I hadn't heard the stories, read the stats, sympathized and empathized, and felt a righteous amount of indignation before. As a sociology major, I'd taken my fair share of women's studies classes in college, and spent a lot of time analyzing the societal forces that collude to hold women back. It's that this was the first time I felt like it applied to me.
Then I did something that I'm kind of ashamed of. I took off my engagement ring for the rest of my job hunt. I left it at home, and didn't make a peep about my lovely, hard-working, feminist, supportive fiancé, even when it was appropriate to have done so. I was absolutely terrified that people would take one look at the diamond on my finger and—even unconsciously—decide I was worth less. I was even more terrified that they'd assume I was at "that age" where I would decide to have children soon, and that having a family equated with being a flaky employee.
Honestly, I have no idea whether or not I did the right thing. Part of me relished the idea of "showing them up," of walking into the office having successfully negotiated my desired salary and surprising them with my personal life after the ink had dried. Part of me felt like I couldn't be the guinea pig, like I knew I needed this salary badly, and so I had to operate within whatever shitty system I was handed.
Either way, the truth is, I don't know how to handle it in the future. So I figured I'd ask some of the smartest, most empowered women I know what they would have done in my place:
"Instinctively I want to say that you should always keep the ring on because you shouldn't hide who you are and screw those idiots who make assumptions. But at the same time, ya gotta get paid, and I don't really feel like a huge part of my identity is wrapped up in these rings so am I really betraying myself if I don't wear them? Additionally, I think it's okay if you take off your rings to get that job and then make a difference from the inside to combat any assumptions made for future interviewees." - account manager, 29
"I have never taken off my rings during job interviews but I definitely feel like it's something that gets noticed! I think that if we want to combat discrimination we have to be who we are. The very idea that rings show stature or how much money you have might even contribute to income inequality because it's such an antiquated societal notion that men give diamonds to women. I do, however, notice myself now in a new job seeing if men are wearing rings because sometimes we think of men who are married as 'responsible,' so it's a funny irony there." - marketing director, 30
"I would say definitely not to take them off just because of the obvious reason: it shouldn't matter. I do get that unfortunately duh it does, but with every form of social injustice, it needs to be dealt with head-on and the more we're quiet about it and don't address it, the more it gets pushed under the rug and it doesn't get fixed. I'm hearing more and more stories of women as the breadwinner and stay-at-home dads, and that makes me happy. I think that we're slowly moving towards these new ideas with our generation and the next, it's just a matter of getting all of those old, grumpy men at the top to stop make these ridiculous and archaic assumptions about our worth." - teacher, 28
"I considered not wearing my engagement ring when I interviewed. Actually not because of salary concerns but because I was worried that they would discriminate almost like if I was interviewing pregnant. Since I was engaged they would know that I would likely be requesting a lot of time off for the wedding/honeymoon and I think there is sometimes a stereotype that people let wedding planning interfere with their work. I decided to wear the ring because if somewhere didn't want me because I was engaged, then I didn't want to work there anyways." - PR director, 29