At first sight, Elana Schlenker's pop-up store, Less Than 100, which was open in Pittsburgh during the month of April appeared just like any other gift store. However, when shoppers went to pay, they were in for a surprise. That's because while men paid full price, women received a 24% discount.
Though that may appear to be blatant discrimination, Elana was merely abiding by the store's slogan "pay what you are paid". And since women in Pennsylvania get paid an average of 76 cents for every dollar men earn for the same job, it is only fair that they pay less.
As if the store's pricing policy was not enough to get the message across, Elana also distributed pamphlets. Entitled "What Are Women Worth?", it explained the status of the wage gap both in Pennsylvania and across the country, and also gave women tips on how to better negotiate salaries. A 2015 study conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that although the rate of women's income has been rising, men still earn more in every state in the country.
But though paying women lower wages is a shame, forking out the full price at Less Than 100 wasn't necessarily a bad thing. That's because the proceeds of all sales went directly to the local artists that had created the beautiful wares. During its month-long tenure, the shop was visited by hundreds of women who wanted to support her mission and the local artists whose work was being showcased. Some even brought in their kids and grandkids to educate them about the importance of keeping the gender wage debate alive. Elana says that while she received some grief about the "discrimination," most men were extremely gracious and happy to pay the full price.
Not surprisingly, the unusual venture has drawn worldwide attention. This November, Elana will partner with photographer Tammy Mercure and open a Less than 100 pop-up store in New Orleans.She believes starting the debate in Louisiana is important given that the state boasts the nation's widest gender wage disparity. Here, women earn a whopping 34 cents less than their male counterparts. While she has received several requests from California, it may be close to the bottom of her list. That's because the "Golden State" is one of the most progressive when it comes to wage equality and, therefore, does not need much help.
Though the Less than 100 project will not resolve the wage disparity, it is a thought-provoking way to bring to the forefront an issue that is increasingly causing a lot of angst among women. Fortunately, Elana is not the only one trying to change the unfair system. Patricia Arquette made an impassioned plea for gender wage equality in her acceptance speech at the Oscars this February. Ellen Pao the interim CEO of Reddit recently announced that new employees will be forbidden from negotiating salaries. She believes that men are better negotiators than women, and, therefore, tend to receive higher wages!
What's encouraging is that male CEOs are also joining the fight! Earlier this month, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff launched a company-wide program to address the issue. Called "Women Surge" it aims to eliminate all gender-based pay disparities, hire and promote more women and ensure that they are better included in meetings! With all these visionaries taking the lead, it will not be long before gender pay inequality is something we will only read about in history books!