A few months after I started graduate school, my mom saw this cartoon and mailed it to me. I’ve kept it on my desk ever since. It reminds me that I come from a long history of hard-working women and to keep showing people what I’m made of.
There’s a lot of news on Equal Pay Day in D.C. right now. Actually, there’s a lot of news about it everywhere – I can’t read the New York Times or turn on NPR without hearing about it. And that’s awesome.
It’s exciting that this is getting so much publicity, but progress is slow going. At the current rate, the pay gap won’t close until 2057 . That means my/our future daughters will be in their 30’s and 40’s before they are paid equivalently to men.
While I fervently support federal initiatives to close the pay gap, it’s too… damn… slow. There are localized  and private sector efforts, but challenges exist there too. Think about it – getting a large corporation to make an effort for pay equality means it has to admit the problem exists in the first place (and possibly open itself up to discrimination suits).
I can’t passively wait for this problem to be fixed for me, and neither can you. I want to share three points that might change the way you think about the gender-based pay gap and (hopefully) encourage you to take a more active role in your financial future.
More women get graduate degrees than men 
Generally, the salary gap INCREASES as education increases 
(The salary gap for women with a master’s degree is larger than the gap for women with a bachelor’s degree. It regionally varies for women with a Ph.D. – in Boston, for example, the gap narrows at the Ph.D. level)
The salary gap INCREASES as age increases 
These points tell us a story. Although women are over 50% of the highly educated young workforce, their starting salary is lower and grows slower (compared to men) as time goes on. You cannot escape this trend with more education or more experience. Essentially, if you don’t start negotiating right away, you’ll never make up for that loss.
I know that graduate school induces “delayed adulthood” in many ways. We treat the first few years of grad school like college on repeat. We get married later in life, we have kids later in life, and enter the workforce later in life.
Outside of naiveté, I think we also don’t take our first salary as a serious negotiation because we haven’t experienced salary discrimination before. That’s a good thing – the typical graduate student’s salary is defined by the school and the department. No negotiation.
But on entering the “real world”, I felt (and still feel, truth be told) that not negotiating is ok at this stage – I tell myself I have plenty of time to work and I’ll make up for it as my skills increase. That feels good and gets me out of awkward professional conversations, but it’s blatantly untrue. You do NOT outgrow that gap.
So I have a few action items I’m going to put into practice. No “top ten” lists of how to negotiate, no pages and pages of research on pay inequality. Just a few simple to-do’s that I think can make a difference right now.
Action 1: Do your homework
In D.C., it’s common to not provide a salary range for a position, but instead ask the candidate what their “salary expectations” are. That’s empowering and incredibly uncomfortable.
So when I put down a salary range on an application, I try to do my homework. I use websites like GlassDoor.com to get an estimated salary for that position in my area (sometimes they even have an exact range for the company I’m applying to). I look up national averages in my field, correlate it to experience or education levels, and keep cost of living in mind.
Action 2: Negotiate your salary. Always. It’s expected.
Here’s the rub though – women can’t just negotiate like men. You’d think if you highlight your skills confidently then it should be obvious why you’re asking for more money. Wrong. Apparently that just makes you look like a jerk.
Sheryl Sandberg and Margaret A. Neale have some tips that are helpful (and somewhat depressing), like highlighting common interests and emphasizing larger goals, rather than focusing the conversation on you. You may have to evoke a communal female stereotype instead of just laying out facts.
Bonus points though – I think a woman knows how to read emotional expressions and adjust body language like a boss. So though there’s no simple instruction manual for negotiating, you can sense how the conversation is going and adjust your strategies accordingly. Just don’t lose ground.
Action 3: Document your work
Some companies do a good job with regular performance feedback. Most don’t. Be your own HR rep and document successful projects, important contributions, and when you go above and beyond to get something done. In a best-case scenario, you can use these examples when asking for a bonus. And if you find yourself in a worst-case scenario (where you have to provide evidence for a discrimination suit), you’ve got some paperwork to support you.
Action 4: Don’t forget about bonuses (or other non-salary perks)
On NPR yesterday morning, Sallie Krawcheck gave this illustrative example of bonus negotiation:
Sallie: So, we’ve got two employees. Let’s call them Joe and Joanne. And Joe and Joanne are both set to make $5 in bonus let’s say.
Now, Joe comes into my office and Joe says, hey Sallie, you know, I really I’ve had a great year, I’d like to make 10 this year. After Joe leaves, I call my head of HR, and we sort of say can you believe this? Joe wants to make 10, he’s in for five, ha, ha, ha.
Well, time goes by. It’s time to put those numbers on the piece of paper. And we start to look and we say, look, we don’t want to lose him. Let’s put him in for seven. Right? OK. So, we’ve done that. Now, what does Joanne make?
David Greene (NPR Host): She gets the five.
Sallie: Wrong. She gets three. Because the bonus pool doesn’t go up. Bonus pool is 10 – five and five. She didn’t ask for anything. So, they’re both in for five, he asks for 10; we give him seven.
I don’t know about you, but on hearing that I was stunned. Logically, of course the bonus pool doesn’t go up, but I didn’t consider that my bonus could actually be reduced if I don’t ask for a deserved increase.
Action 5: Don’t be complacent after your first negotiation
If you’ve negotiated a higher salary when you started your new job – bravo! If not, all is not lost. You should continue to negotiate in the future. Cost-of-living rarely goes down and you don’t get dumber with more experience. It’s as simple as that. So if you’ve worked hard and done a good job, ask for a reasonable increase. You know Joe is going to.
 Jacqueline Berrien, Chair, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission*
 Boston Closing the Wage Gap: Becoming the Best City in America for Working Women
 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013):
- 452,038 women graduated with master’s degrees, compared to only 302,191 men
- 87,451 women graduated with doctoral degrees, compared to only 82,611 men.
 Victoria Budson, Founding Executive Director, Women and Public Policy Program, Harvard Kennedy School of Government*
* Quoted from the event “More Than a Number: Combatting Pay Discrimination in the Workplace” on April 7, 2014 at The Center for American Progress in Washington D.C.