April 4th, 2017 was Equal Pay Day in the United States. This date symbolizes how far into the following year women must work to earn what men earned in 2016. It’s even longer for women of color and women with disabilities. The gender pay gap, as it's known, is the disparity between what women and men make for doing the same jobs. The estimate hovers around 80 cents (women) to the dollar (men), with different sources putting it as low as 79 cents or as high as 82 cents (yay?). A 20-year-old female entering the workforce full time will lose $418,800 over a 40-year career compared to a male worker, which means she will have to stay in the workforce 10 years longer than a man in order to earn the same amount.
"Okay, okay, I get it, I know there's a problem. What am I supposed to do about it?"
I'm so glad you asked.
1. Do your homework. Find out how your salary compares to your peers', both male and female, not just in your company but across your industry. This preparation is key to making your case.
2. Detail all of your accomplishments and contributions to your workplace. Write down every single thing you do that is above and beyond your current job description. Be exhaustive. Get testimonials from colleagues, even if you feel awkward asking. Tie all of the work you’ve done to results for the company’s bottom line. It is not up to you to consider whether or not they have the money to give you what you’re asking for. Men don’t do that.
4. Practice negotiating in your everyday life to become comfortable with it. Ask for your latté on the house, your credit card's annual fee to be waived, or a voucher for future travel from an airline that didn't meet your needs. Role play with a friend as your boss. Really practice the delivery, and your poker face. You need to be confident and firm while not appearing rude or unyielding. Make statements and don’t turn them into questions by letting your voice go up at the end. Most importantly, remove your personal feelings from the whole process. Think of it like selling a vacuum; you believe in the product (your work), you believe it’s worth this price (your raise), and your job is to get your potential sale (your boss) to see it as worth that same price by rooting your pitch in what it can do for them.
5. Now it’s time to make the big ask! Schedule a meeting (or maybe you have a performance or annual review coming up) with your manager, lay out your case, and ask for a raise based on your worth. Ideally, let your manager propose the first concrete number. Have your dream number in mind, as well as the one you can comfortably live with and feel valued by. Counter with your dream number, and then WAIT. Silence is powerful and uncomfortable. Resist the urge to fill it. If they return with a number you are not comfortable with, stand your ground. You are not asking for a favor. You are valuing yourself and your work, and increasing your loyalty and productivity to a company that is willing to recognize you for it. No matter what they offer, even if it’s what you want or higher, keep your poker face straight and say you would like some time to think it over and will get back to them once you’ve considered it.
If your company absolutely cannot or will not budge on money, you can ask for other perks. You can negotiate for more vacation time, a flexible schedule or location, a new title, a leadership coach, increased benefits, childcare options, and plenty more. Remember that it costs them so much more money to recruit, hire, and train a new employee and have them get comfortable with culture and other intangibles than to give you what you are asking for.
One frustrating truth is that that women who ask for raises are seen more negatively than men who ask for raises. However, women are more likely to be granted a raise if they root their request in language that focuses on the company’s overall success and show that they care about fostering positive relationships at work. While this might feel like playing the game and therefore not toppling the patriarchy, remember that by standing firm and demanding what you are worth, you are part of closing the gender pay gap. The patriarchy hates that kind of stuff.