For years I’ve been confused about the pay gap for women. I know it exists, but I’ve never fully understood how it happens.
It couldn’t be possible, I’ve thought, that employers have one pay scale for women and another for men. Or that male hiring managers would interview women, decide to hire them and then rub their hands together with glee thinking, “Great, snared one of those women that we can pay less”.
I’ve even done some informal research with my husband and other male executives to see if they ever paid a woman less…just because of her gender. The answer has always been “no”, followed by “how could I possibly get away with that?”
My confusion started to clear when I read a great New York Times article, “How to Attack the Pay Gap? Speak Up”. At first the article seems to be about the same old stats: for every dollar a man earns, a white woman earns 77 cents, a black woman earns 69 cents and a Latina woman earns 57 cents.
But then the article gets at the root of the problem. The woman who wrote the article, Jessica Bennett (the executive editor of Tumblr), talks about being hired for her first job and learning that she and her female peers were earning less than the male reporters. “When I tried to figure out why my salary was comparatively lower, it occurred to me: couldn’t I simply have asked for more? The problem was that I was terrified at the prospect. When I finally mustered up the nerve, I made my pitch clumsily, my voice shaking and my face beet red. I brought along a printed list of my accomplishments, but I couldn’t help but feel boastful saying them out loud. While waiting to hear whether I would get the raise (I did), I agonized over whether I should have asked at all.”
While this is a story of a woman early in her career, I know–from all my years of counseling and recruiting women—that this fear of “tooting your own horn” and asking for the compensation you deserve knows no age or experience limit. Even at the highest levels women need a big boost of the “ask for it” confidence that seems to run more freely in male veins.
Women who do not fall into the pay gap are women who are not afraid to negotiate—at 22, 42 or 62. Bennett’s article centers on a terrific organization called the WAGE Project which aims to close the gender pay gap by teaching negotiation skills.
Any good negotiator will tell you that a successful negotiation is a win-win. Both sides need to feel like they won something valuable. Employers win your great talents and contributions, and you have to win fair compensation. When one side has a bigger “win”, the deal—whether it’s a corporate merger or an employment contract, eventually sours.
So stand up a little taller, make a list of the key accomplishments that have brought you recognition and grab the confidence to negotiate the compensation you deserve.
This blog first appeared on 9 Lives For Women on 02/08/2013.