Beat Wage Discrimination: How Women Can Get Paid as Much as Male Colleagues

Published June 18, 2014

| LearnVest

When Gozde Aksay moved from Seattle to New York City in 2010 to work for a big financial firm, she was so excited to get the offer, she didn’t negotiate her salary or think to inquire what others in her position mad

“I didn’t really know how expensive New York City was, so when HR asked what I wanted, I said a number, and they said, ‘Alright,’” the 31-year-old software developer recalls. “Throughout my employment that base salary stuck with me, and I didn’t get a promotion because they always told us the company wasn’t doing any better after the crisis.”

A few months later, a male co-worker in her department accidentally revealed his salary in a conversation.

“I realized he was making 30% more than me,” she says.

While Aksay stops short of calling her lower salary the result of gender discrimination, her experience was unsettling. She ultimately left the firm. “I did feel I dealt with salary inequality,” she says. “I now can see that I should have negotiated my salary when joining [the firm].”

While Aksay didn’t try to negotiate for pay equivalent to that of her male colleague, the experience inspired her to create Salary Fairy, a crowdsourcing platform and career site that offers personalized salary predictions based on job type and other variables.

But unfortunately, Aksay’s experience is all too common.

You’ve probably heard that a full-time working woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That stat is a major talking point of not only equal-pay advocacy organizations but of President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

Recently, a New Yorker article about the firing of former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, which suggested she was let go after she raised concerns about being paid less than her male predecessor, has only amplified the national conversation. Here, we offer some advice for women who are concerned about not getting paid on par with their male colleagues—and tips on how to bridge the wage gap.

According to the latest U.S. Census figures, the typical American woman working at least 35 hours a week, year-round, earned 77.1% of what the typical American man did. What’s more alarming is that the number hasn’t changed much since 2001, and since then has ranged from 75.2% to 77.8%.

That amounts to a yearly wage gap of $11,607 between full-time working men and women. And for women of color, the wage gap is larger. African American women are paid, on average, 64 cents, and Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men (here’s the state-by-state breakdown). What’s worse is that once women are paid poorly, usually because they don’t negotiate a better salary, the cycle of being paid less continues over a lifetime.

“The lack of negotiating compounds over a career since most employers ask for previous pay and base their offer on it,” says Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, which specializes in counseling on what jobs should pay. “The difference grows and grows till the gap gets into the twenties by the time a women is in her late thirties.”

There are many theories from sociologists and economists on why this is happening—some say women often lack the confidence to ask for what they’re worth; others contend that male bosses may be subconsciously sexist and undervalue women. Regardless of the reason, it’s women and their families who feel the greatest loss.

The Paycheck Fairness Act—which would provide more pay transparency in the workplace and measures to encourage better pay for women—was proposed earlier this year, but was blocked in the Senate on a cloture vote. “We know that millions of women in virtually every occupation are paid less than men,” says Vicki Shabo, a vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families. “The gender pay gap wage differential is a tremendous and enduring problem, not just for women being paid less but for families’ economic security. This has lasting impacts throughout the year.”

Knowing What You’re Worth

Whether a woman has a hunch she’s not making as much as her male buddies for the same job, or she wonders if she could be making more, if she didn’t do her research before accepting the job offer, there’s a chance she isn’t pulling in what she’s worth.

“If you accepted the first offer, you are underpaid; if they gave you your desired salary without any pushback, you are underpaid,” Donovan says, adding that websites such as salary.com or glassdoor.com offer information about how much different positions pay in every geographic area of the country.

In 2011 those sites were a huge help to 33-year-old Molly Celaschi, a marketing director who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, after she overheard various conversations at a previous firm about a male colleague who was making significantly more than she was.

“I starting researching online, like through Glass Door and Salary.com,” says Celaschi, who specializes in entertainment and high-tech marketing. “I realized I was making almost $20K less than the norm.”

Asking for a Raise

While you may be underpaid right now, the good news is you don’t have to storm your boss’s office and picket for equal rights in order to get a raise. The key to getting more, according to Celaschi and Donovan, is not to get into gender politics (even if you are angry).

Here are the steps to take to get the salary or raise that you deserve:

1. Start with an online search. Use the aforementioned sites to search typical salaries, or ask your peers in the same profession what they make. By knowing what someone in your desired position is worth, you’ll have a better idea of whether a prospective employer is lowballing you. “You need to become a good consumer of jobs,” says Donovan. “Spend just as much time and effort [researching your job] as you do in researching the price of gas, a car, a vacation. Just like researching the price of things, you can find out the price of jobs.”

2. Ask around. Go beyond the internet too. If, for example, you’re interviewing with a large or well-known company, Donovan suggests asking people in the industry if that company pays poorly, average or well. Another idea: Call a headhunter. “Tell them what you do and what you are paid,” says Donovan. “Then ask, ‘Can I do better?’ If you can, you’ll have just confirmed your suspicion and started a job search. Check with the professional or trade association for your job or industry. Many do research on pay and benefits. Do this annually because job markets fluctuate, just like homes.”

3. Prep before talking to your boss. If you’re already employed and suspect (or know) you’re getting paid less, pull together some evidence—such as sales data or other statistics relevant to how you impact the company’s bottom line—to show how you’ve gone above and beyond at your job. After arming herself with salary data, Celaschi emailed her C.E.O. and requested a quick meeting. “I prepared for the meeting by pulling my and my team’s stats for the past six months, estimating what the next six months of stats would look like, and listing the actions I was taking to get there.” She then asked for a raise—and ended up with a 20% salary boost.

4. Focus on job performance. “The goal is for you to be paid appropriately, so focus on what that is and show that you have researched it,” says Donovan. “I recommend starting by asking about your job performance. Get management to say how great you are and then say, ‘I’m glad you agree that I am a strong employee. That is why I was so surprised to find out how underpaid I am compared to the market norm. What can we do to fix that?’ At some point use the words ‘salary adjustment.’ That bounces things out of typical raise mentality.”

5. Stick to the facts. In obtaining her raise, Celaschi didn’t get emotional or mention that she made less than her male peers, or accuse her C.E.O. of being sexist. She simply made a case for what she was worth. “I think I earned more respect from my peers and especially the C.E.O. by taking this initiative,” she says. “After that, raises and even bonuses were never an issue. It became the first time in my life I made almost six figures as a single woman. I learned that if you feel you deserve something, speak up for yourself. No one else is going to fight that battle for you. And if you do not get what you want? Walk.”

Read More from Credit.com:

Secrets of Success: How I Learned to Make What I Was Really Worth

They Did It and You Can, Too: Real People’s Secrets to Getting Raises

 8 Get-Ahead Questions to Ask Your Boss

8 Gender ‘Blind Spots’ That Could Sabotage Your Career

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