5 Ways Women Can Close the Pay Gap
If you have two X chromosomes and a job, the latest numbers on the wage gap will likely leave you feeling frustrated: Women make only 78¢ for every dollar a man makes, the Census just reported, marking all of a 1¢ improvement over 2012.
Meanwhile, Republican senators blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act this week, which called for greater salary transparency and would have required employers to be able to prove that wage differences were based on factors other than gender.
Overcoming the barriers to equal pay isn't proving to be easy. And there are some factors we can't move the needle on as individuals. For example, childbearing counts against us, in what economists have dubbed the "motherhood penalty." We pay both a per-child wage penalty and also may be dunned for working fewer hours because of our caregiving responsibility. And then there's straight-up discrimination, which is very hard to prove despite being so palpable to many of us at certain moments in our careers. (Perhaps this explains why one study found that 41% of the pay gap is unexplained!)
Closing the gap a penny at a time is still progress. But for those of you who don't want to—or can't—wait around until 2058 to see equal pay, here are five strategies to at least get you closer to even with your XY counterparts.
1. Negotiate smarter...
Working women have heard it all before: We're not aggressive enough in asking for higher pay; we are bad at negotiating. But if do negotiate aggressively, well, that gets held against us.
But we've got to find a way to make it work for us if we want to get paid a fair wage.
So what can we do? Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School who has done research on what makes women successful in negotiations, has found that being collaborative—using "we" and trying to take the perspective of the company and hiring manager—tends to be more effective than other approaches.
She also emphasizes authenticity, so try to come up with language that feels comfortable and natural for you to use.
2. ...and from the outset.
A 2011 study by Catalyst tracked 3,300 high-performing students in M.B.A. programs as they began their careers, and found that while 47% of women and 52% of men had countered the initial offer made for their current job, only 31% of women vs. 50% of men had countered the offer for the first job they had out of grad school.
While it's good that women are catching on to the importance of negotiating, we need to encourage them to do it sooner.
Say you started out $5,000 behind your male peer, making $40,000 vs. his $45,000. If you each got 3% raises for each of the next five years, you'd be making $46,371 vs. his $52,167, expanding the difference to $5,798 and you'd have given up $26,546 in income differential in those years.
The longer this goes on, the harder it is to catch up.
3. Push for promotions early on.
Failing to negotiate your salary from the start is not only an initial mistake; it is one that will continue to follow you and will be compounded over the years, disadvantaging you throughout the remainder of your career. Every raise you get, every bonus you receive and even the number of stock options you are awarded, will be smaller because these amounts are normally determined as a percentage of your artificially low base salary." According to Payscale, "women's pay growth stops outpacing men's at around age 30, which is when college-educated women typically start having children." Furthermore, women's pay peaks at age 39 at $60,000, vs. $95,000 at age 48 for men.
That suggests that a smart move would be to try to move up the ladder before you decide to raise a family.
4. Work in a fairer field.
Part of the problem, according to Sarah Jane Glynn, associate director for women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, is that a large proportion of women are clustered in a relatively few fields: 44% are in 20 occupations. And typically within those professions, the majority of workers are women. As Glynn has written,
So just try for a higher-paying male-dominated field, right? That can help. Harvard labor economist Claudia Goldin found that, for college grads, moving into such a profession would eliminate an average 30% to 35% of the wage gap.
But that's not always a home run. Goldin found that female aircraft pilots and financial advisors earn less on the dollar compared to male peers than the average worker, at 71% and 73% respectively.
Goldin did find that the pay gap is much smaller than the average in certain fields—including ad sales, dental hygiene, HR, chemistry, pharmacy, and computer programming. But she pegs the slim difference to the fact that these fields allow a specific kind of flexibility that allows one worker to easily sub out for another, if, say, someone has to stay home with a sick kid.
5. Toot your own horn.
That Catalyst study of M.B.A. grads found that, of those women who said they made their achievements known to others in the organization, 30% had greater compensation growth than peers who did not promote themselves.
Some of the qualities found in these folks: "ensuring their manager was aware of their accomplishments, seeking feedback and credit as
appropriate, and asking for a promotion when they felt it was deserved."
Sounds easy enough on paper, but in real life, this kind of self-promotion isn't always easy for women.
To make it more palatable, Laura Donovan of Levo League suggests being selective about the moments you do this (e.g. yes to scoring the $1 million client, no to pushing through the report that's expected of you), choosing the right audience for your message (don't blast the full staff), and focusing on facts rather than self-congratulation ("I just wanted you to know that we've signed the contract with Client Y, for $1 million over two years....").
Also, focus on the upside: The Catalyst study suggested that self-promotion can help you gain sponsorship from important allies who can help you further advance in your career, and hopefully get you closer to closing the pay gap.