Joann S. Lublin is Management News Editor at the Wall Street Journal. This commentary is adapted from her new book, Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World.
Women must partly blame themselves for the gender pay gap.
A veteran Wall Street Journal reporter, I never squawked over my modest raise for being promoted to news editor of our London bureau. I later learned that male Journal colleagues making similar foreign moves often refused small raises.
Based on current trends, U.S. women won’t achieve pay equality until 2058, according to a 2015 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. A typical working woman loses more than $530,000 over her lifetime due to this gap, the report said.
And the pay gap still yawns wide for unionized staffers at Dow Jones, which publishes The Journal. On average, Dow Jones women get paid about 87 cents for every dollar paid to their male colleagues, concluded a 2016 analysis by those employees’ union.
Yet if you don’t ask for bigger bucks, you’ll never get them — as Cathie Black learned. She was one of 52 corporate executive women I interviewed for my book, Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World. Black resisted being underpaid from the outset. She eventually became president of Hearst Magazines, a major publisher of popular publications such as Cosmopolitan and Esquire.
Raised in Chicago, Black sought an entry-level publishing job in New York after receiving an English literature degree in 1966. She needed to find work before finding an apartment. “My dad said I couldn’t sign a lease until I had a job that could pay for the rent,” Black told me. But she knew almost no one in the publishing industry, and her summer stints had consisted of clerical or retail sales jobs.
Magazine publisher Condé Nast offered the new college graduate an editorial position for $65 a week. “I cannot afford to work for that,” Black insisted. “I know that, dear, but there’s an awful lot of women who are supported by their parents who come here to work at Condé Nast,” a personnel official replied.
Luckily, Black landed a better position paying plenty more at Holiday magazine. She earned $95 a week selling classified advertisements over the telephone to hotels and resorts.
Eighteen months later, Black’s boss quit and she decided to pitch Holiday’s publisher about succeeding her supervisor as manager of classified advertising. Attired in a suit and heels, she marched into his office down the hall. The 24-year-old sales assistant described herself as driven and capable of advancing to manager, she recalled during our interview. “I would work harder than anybody else he could find.”
The publisher offered Black the promotion plus a $3,000 raise, bringing her annual salary to about $8,000. She wasn’t pleased, because her prior manager had made about $13,000. Informing the publisher that she had a sense of how much that woman had earned, she announced, “I expected that that was what I would be offered.”
The man was shocked. His face turned beet red. “He looked apoplectic,” Black said. He nevertheless sweetened the pot by $1,500, and she took the promotion.
The gutsy encounter taught Black the importance of women bargaining hard over pay. “Women forever have had a real issue with negotiating,” she said to me. “Women, I think, instinctively are embarrassed. They don’t think it is the right thing to do.”
Black came to view conversations about compensation as a game where you should anticipate the worst possible outcome. At Holiday magazine, she remembered thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen? He could take the job offer away,” she pointed out. “But I am the devil that he knows. Better than hiring somebody from the outside who frankly would cost more.”
Black later became publisher of New York magazine, the first woman in such a role for a weekly U.S. consumer publication. Her experiences illustrate why women must use smart strategies to bargain for fair pay.
Here are additional tips for getting what you’re worth, based on interviews with other executive women:
- Defuse tense pay talks with a “velvet glove,” asking smart questions and showing empathy.
- Keep your boss well informed about your accomplishments so you can win your deserved raises.
- Find out how much people at the same job level earn inside and outside your workplace even if your role isn’t identical so you can decide whether to make a fuss.
- Be willing to jump ship to achieve pay equity. “Women are so damn loyal,” complains Paula Rosput Reynolds, former chief executive of Safeco and AGL Resources. “Men threaten to leave and get raises to stay. Women just stay.”