The Truth About The Wage Gap

An ex-boyfriend once asserted that women were their own worst enemy when it came to money. He asserted that if women would just speak up, they would see the benefit on their checks. He was only half right.

Ex (let's call him Marc) had a conversation with another lifeguard, Ally. Now, he and Ally had started at the same time, with the same rate of pay - a flat $7.00 per hour. Over the years, they had consistently taken the same exams and the same accreditation, both ultimately obtaining their pool operator's license. One day, Ally complained to Marc about her low rate of pay. After being with the same company for close to five years, she was still making only nine dollars an hour.

Marc was dumbfounded. He was making $13.00 an hour. He ended up coaching Ally on how to forcefully ask for a pay raise (flash credentials, threaten to leave, cite a competing companies offer) and she renegotiated up to $11.00 an hour. He concluded that women just weren't forceful enough when asking for money.

"You all are too nice," he groused, "you need to learn to ask for what you want."

But are all asks considered equal?

Over at Broadsheet, Tracy Clark-Flory spells out the tricky road women walk when negotiating for pay.

The same explanation for the gender pay gap has been put on exhibit, again and again: Women aren't as aggressive as men are about asking for raises. But, according to a new study, the reason may not be so much that women don't know how to haggle as it is that they perceive consequences to being seen as the not-so-nice girl.[...]

Oh, and there are consequences.

[I]n a related study, the researchers asked 285 volunteers to evaluate videos of job applicants either asking for higher pay or agreeing to the offered salary. "Men tended to rule against women who negotiated but were less likely to penalize men; women tended to penalize both men and women who negotiated, and preferred applicants who did not ask for more," reports the Washington Post.

While much is often made of how women never ask for more money (which also stems from societal conditioning), less is made of the social penalties facing a woman who has decided to step outside of what is acceptable and have the nerve to request the amount that she is worth. I can remember my first few encounters with negotiations, and how differently the process went with bosses who were invested in my development as a person as well as an employee and how it went with bosses who were ultimately more concerned with their bottom line.

By the time I got my first salaried job, I thought I was pretty skilled in negotiation. I routinely made counter-offers to my job offers and generally received a pay upgrade. I was realistic in evaluating my strengths and what I could bring to an employer. And I was good at surveying and understanding the market I work in (after all, one of my former gigs was in market research).

However, what I was not prepared for was irrationality from employers. How you could do everything "right" - have a solid work history, be a team player, work up to a performance review, prepare a lot of documents on your own behalf, make an offer that is in keeping with your production and market value - and still receive push back about a promotion or a raise.

So, I learned a couple things about negotiating at work.

The first one, I notice, is in a lot of the career advice for men, but not in the career advice for women guides.* It's the simplest thing in the world - be prepared to walk. Sometimes we aren't in the position to walk. And I understand that. But sometimes, it's the only way to signal to an employer that you are serious. At my first salary position, there came a point in time when I was managing $1.7 million dollars worth of business partnerships. My employer paid me less than 30K. So, I buckled down, redoubled my efforts, made sure my partner recommendations were glowing, made sure that I upped my productivity time, and came into the performance review prepared.

Still nothing. The company had the money to pay me, and chose not to, saying that they could only give me an extra $500 bonus. The worst thing about it? I had only asked for an additional $3,000 a year. I started looking for a new gig, quit the job, got a new one paying me an additional $4,000 and through that job, landed the next gig that both doubled my salary and thrust me into the world of self-employment.

So, in sum, if there is any way possible you can leave once your company indicates they are unwilling to negotiate, do so.

The second one is to try to have as much negotiation leverage as you can when making this decision. Ally walked in with the knowledge of Marc's salary and was able to negotiate a much higher raise than the initial fifty cents an hour offered to her. And I made the decision to quit the job I did armed with information about what other departments in my organization were paying their employees. It quickly became clear that our department was eating the salary increases for all the other departments - the next lowest paid employee was another 10K ahead of me, the highest paid person in my department. And the best way to gain information isn't using websites like Salary.com (though they can be helpful if you are trying to switch industries) but actually talking to people, and earning enough trust where they are willing to have the ever awkward "what I make" conversation with you.

However, these two tips are not fool-proof. As comfortable as a I am with negotiating, there are still many times when I crash and burn or have to walk to make a point about what I am worth. But in order to have intelligent conversations about women in business and the wage gap, I think we need to have a more honest conversation about what we are up against.

*I'll take a deeper look at those later this week.


The Costs of Asking for a Higher Salary
[Broadsheet]
Salary, Gender, and the Cost of Haggling [Washington Post]