By now, you’ve likely heard the rather grim statistics: on average, women earn less money than men for comparable jobs. In 2015, women made 80 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same roles, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research. The whys and hows of this salary difference is kind of a political football—everyone seems to have an opinion why that is, or even whether the gender gap truly exists. While that discussion is for another time and place, let’s go with the stats on this one, and look at how women can overcome challenges and pay disparities to improve their own salary outlook.
1. Be your own best advocate.
The first thing you need to do is understand that this is your ball to carry. No one is going to come along with a big check and say, “You know what, you deserve more money. Take this!” No matter how awesome you are at your job, or how above and beyond you’ve gone lately, it’s most likely going to be up to you to help ensure that you’re being compensated as much as possible.
This is something I’ve struggled with personally throughout my career. I’ve always had the mindset of, “I’m gonna work really hard, and be really great at this, and people are going to notice and reward me accordingly.” Guess what? Praise and acknowledgment don’t necessarily translate into higher salary. Once I realized that it was on me to make sure I was making what I was worth—and taking positive, proactive steps to make that happen.
2. Know your market value.
This is key. Increasing your salary is going to be very difficult if you don’t really know what other people are making in your field and at your experience level. If your ask isn’t reasonable, your chances of getting a bumped-up salary are somewhere in the area of “laughed out of the room.”
In another hard lesson in my career, a colleague who was leaving our company let me know what he was earning there (we had the same job title and responsibilities). It was significantly more than I was making at the time, and I was floored. When I brought this up to my boss, her response? “You weren’t supposed to know that.” Maybe not, in some unspoken “talking money is rude” kind of way, but I did know it, and it gave me a number to aim for when it came time for the annual review and salary increase.
You shouldn’t have to rely on the grapevine to know what others are making, but you also probably shouldn’t walk right up to your coworkers and demand to see their pay stubs. We have tons of great tools available to us to find out what others are making in our industry, and what we can reasonably expect based on experience, location, etc.:
You can use all of these without having a single awkward conversation about salary and personal finances. Don’t hesitate to have as much information at your disposal as possible. And don’t let anyone convince you that it’s rude to talk numbers when it comes to your own career and salary goals.
4. Negotiate every time.
According to Stanford-based leadership expert Margaret A. Neale, women just don’t negotiate at the rates that men do. And in fact, Linda Babcock, author of Women Don’t Ask, found that while 57% of men negotiate salary, only about 7% of women do. Seriously, 7%! It looks like everyone—men and women alike—should be negotiating more, but especially women. Not negotiating is like closing a door without checking to see if anyone’s there. How do you know if there’s an opportunity to increase your salary if you haven’t even tried yet?
And don’t think that negotiation is just for new job offers—you should be negotiating your salary at every chance, including annual reviews, after times when you’ve gone above and beyond at work or taken on new responsibilities successfully, and/or when you discover that your market value is higher than your current salary level. Whether you’re a negotiation newbie or want to bump up your skills and become a master negotiator, we have plenty of resources for you:
- Your Comprehensive Guide to Negotiating Salary
- How to Get a Raise at Work
- 6 Tips for Negotiating the Salary You Want
- The Super Easy Guide: How to Negotiate a Raise and Promotion
There are also lots of experts online who have honed their negotiating skills, and want to share that information with other women. Resources like MichelleMotivateMe are a great place to start:
Once you get over any hesitations about getting in there and playing the negotiation game, you’ll have started advocating for yourself and your salary goals in the best and most direct way possible.
5. Think small (company).
If you’ve tried negotiating and still fallen short of your salary goals, it might be time to think about switching companies. Hired.com investigated wage gaps at different kinds of companies, and came up with some intriguing statistics around the unfortunately traditional wage gap. It turns out that smaller companies and startup companies are less likely to have significant wage gaps, compared to companies that were bigger and more corporate, or that had been established longer.
The thinking behind this? Small companies tend to have more visibility into salaries, which is an equalizer. If employees know that Frank two desks away is making more for the same job, the company has an employee relations incentive to keep things more equal. The other interesting angle was that startup (or “seed stage”) companies may have less pay disparity because they have less flexibility in the salaries they can offer employees, so they can’t really afford to offer one employee a drastically different salary than another employee in the same role.
So what does this mean for your own salary? You might want to consider whether there are companies in your field that can offer you better salary—less established companies that you may not have considered before.
6. Think outside your career box.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a pay rut, you might also want to consider a job change. There are growing fields, like logistics/trucking, manufacturing, and information technology, where women are the minority of workers. Many women have the base skills necessary for these “middle-skill” jobs (which often don’t require a college degree), but just aren’t pursuing them at the same rate men are. If you’re looking for more opportunities to segue into higher-paying roles, one of these industries might be a great path for you. (Just don’t forget to negotiate!)
The good news is that statistics may inform us about what’s going on, but they don’t have to define us—or our careers. There’s no reason to accept the status quo when it comes to your own career and your goals. If you’re a woman and you’re interested in boosting your earning potential, you have tools to help you do that. And if more women take control of their salary destiny and start using all of those tools, we can start changing those stats, one closed gap at a time.