Here we are, at the end of 2012 and the gender pay gap is still alive and well. Even with the passing of anti-discriminatory legislation like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, women are still being paid less than their male co-workers. In fact, most experts say that for every dollar a male worker makes, a white female makes 77 cents, a black woman makes 69 cents and a latina woman makes only 57 cents.
It's difficult for me to believe that as far as women have come to achieving equality that this sort of inequality still exists. I grew up in the 70's, when feminism was on the rise and I was able to see strong, capable women who didn't buy into the 50's ideals of what being a woman meant. By the time I reached college, I thought that gender discrimination in the workplace was going the way of the dinosaur. Unfortunately, almost 20 years later, it's still with us.
When I first took a sales job in the corporate world after having spent almost a decade in the very female dominated area of health and beauty sales, I was shocked to realize that many of the people I worked with were earning significantly higher salaries than I was. We were all hired and trained at the same time, so the pay difference was hard to understand. Was it discrimination? I don't think so because the people who were making more were both male and female and came from diverse backgrounds. One day, I worked up the nerve to ask one of my higher-paid female co-workers how she managed to get such a higher salary. Her answer shocked me.
She said that she asked for it.
She went on to tell me that originally, the company offered her the same starting salary that they offered me but that she had negotiated higher compensation based on her experience. When the company hired me, I accepted their initial offer and thanked them for it. It didn't occur to me that I had an option to ask for more.
There are many women who have been asking why men make more than women, and they've come up with several possibilities. Perhaps they were more effective at marketing themselves or because of their gender, they seemed more capable. However, most agree that the primary reason for the wage gap is that men are more comfortable negotiating higher salaries.
So, why are women so reluctant to negotiate? Is it because they feel that they will be penalized if they appear too pushy? Maybe, but according to Women Don't Ask, it's because even when women negotiate, they are more pessimistic about what is available and tend to ask for and get less. In fact, their poor negotiation skills over a lifetime can cost them as much as $500,000 by the age of 60.
How can women prevent or at least minimize the wage gap? Currently there are several groups, like WAGE that are helping women learn the skills they need to negotiate a better salary. In fact, Carnegie Mellon University's is sponsoring a negotiation workshop to help women better compete in the workforce.
Here are some of the key point for women who want to negotiate higher salaries:
Do some research before applying – According to WAGE, women report salary expectations that are 3 to 32 percent lower than a man's. This means that it's really important for us to research the average salary for our industry in order to know what's fair. Even when it seems that the company is offering a more-than-generous compensation package, it's just the initial offer and you can still negotiate for more – trust me, the men will. Once you know what you're worth, it's easy to feel comfortable asking for it.
Know your bottom line – Before accepting a compensation package, you should take a hard look at your personal finances in order to determine what your bottom line is, or what is the lowest amount you're willing to accept. Often, we make this number too low and look at how much money we need to just get by. However, when determining your figure, think about your short-term goals and your goals over the next five years. Are you planning to start a family? Will you be wanting to move or upgrade your housing or car? Factor all of these things in to make sure that you don't accept a figure that will short-change your future.
Ask – but ask nicely – Women are reluctant to negotiate because they don't want to appear “too pushy” - and with good reason. According to research by Harvard senior lecturer, Hannah Riley Bowles, women who negotiate are often viewed as overly assertive, less likeable and they are less likely to be offered jobs or to be given higher salaries. In order to overcome that prejudice, women need to learn to ask with a smile. While men can be successful using more aggressive negotiation tactics, women will have better results by being polite. Of course this doesn't mean that you shouldn't negotiate, just that you have to be softer in your approach.
Don't name a salary first – When asked about your desired salary, never name a figure. Instead, using your research as a guide, provide the employer with a desired range in order to get the negotiations started. No matter what figure they come back with – even if it's the highest number in your range – ask for more. The worst they can do is say “No, this is our final offer." At that point, you can do whatever you think is best, but if you don't ask for more – you won't get it.
As women, we have to understand that even though large gender biases exist, there are things that we can do today that will help narrow the gender wage gap and help us reach our full earning potential. One of the best methods to accomplish this is to learn more about how to negotiate.
Have you ever negotiated a salary, a raise or even haggled on the price of a large purchase? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Image Source: MorgueFile