How to make it more likely that you’ll earn the same salary as your male co-worker.
April 4th was equal pay day, and it made me think about how frustrating it is that many women still earn less than men for doing the same jobs. Wondering what I could do to make (even a small) an impact on this issue, I thought it might be helpful to share the advice I’ve given and received about compensation.
One fear I have is that by writing this I will be perceived as saying, “Women of the world, the pay gap is your fault. Just start implementing my suggestions and the problem will disappear!” The pay gap is neither our fault nor entirely under our control. That said, I do believe women can do better when they have the right information. Here is what has worked well for me:
1. Find out what people doing your job are worth
It’s not a comfortable thing to figure out, but it’s important to know what others like you are being paid. I haven’t gotten value from websites that share salary information. Their data is too broad. I’ve had better luck talking to recruiters and others in my field, and in finding out what the local trends are directly. Be sure to get very specific information for people who are like you. Consider location, your level of experience, education, etc. and be sure you know what the range is for people in that same category. Understand that larger companies tend to pay more than smaller ones.
Begin attending business events and building a network of people you can talk to directly about compensation. Connect with recruiters in your field on LinkedIn and if they reach out to you agree to have a phone call even if you aren’t looking. Make it your goal in the call to get an understanding of what they are paying for role they are recruiting for.
Note: It’s obviously not a good idea to talk to people within your company about compensation. Focus your data gathering externally. :)
2. Take the time to become comfortable with the idea that you are worth just as much as your male counterparts
I’m not sure if we all do this consciously, but I think some women believe they are not as valuable as their male co-workers, either because they are balancing work and family, or because they have grown up in a society that values men more and have internalized that belief. That is a false and negative perception that is damaging your career. Take time periodically to reflect on your own biases and think about how you may be self-sabotaging based on those biases. Own the truth that you are just as valuable as the men in your workplace and notice if there are any places where that feels uncomfortable for you. Recognize the times in your internal dialogs where you are holding yourself back or raising others on a pedestal, and work to develop confidence and strength to ask for what you want.
3.Even if you are happy in your current role, interview somewhere else at least once a year
The art of interviewing is very important to practice. Every professional should flex the muscle of interviewing once a year so that when you DO need to look for another job, it doesn’t feel as daunting. Interviewing externally can also be a way to learn how other teams are working outside your company’s bubble. It can be a way for you to get perspective on how good you have it in your current role. I’ve more than once interviewed externally only to come running back to my current role with a greater sense of loyalty and gratitude.
4. Find out how valuable you are at your company
It’s not often that you have an accurate sense of how much your company values you. Some feel that they are highly valued but the reality is that they don’t have a lot of leverage with their team. Others feel they are barely doing enough when the reality is that they are seen as completely critical. Once or twice a year, it doesn’t hurt to directly ask your manager where you stand, and what you can be doing to be more effective.
The reason it’s important to get signal on this is that if you are not seen as mission critical, it’s important to get to that place before asking for a big raise or promotion. This signal also tells you whether you will be more likely to progress quickly within your current organization, or whether your career is going to grow faster if you move to another company.
5. If you are talking with a recruiter at another company, don’t disclose your salary before hearing what they are willing to offer you
This one has been difficult for me personally. When a recruiter starts of a conversation with me by asking what my salary currently is, I feel rude refusing them. The unfortunate truth is that if you are currently underpaid, and they base their offer to you off of what you make now, you will be underpaid in the new job as well. I’ve seen this situation many times as a hiring manager. The single best thing you can do for your compensation equality is to answer by saying one of the following:
“I prefer to hold off on sharing my current compensation information because I’ve read that that doesn’t benefit the employee in the negotiation process. I can give you a sense if your range is workable for me though, if you have that on hand.”
“Before we get too far down the interview process I wanted to check in on the compensation expectations for this role. I wouldn’t want to waste your time in bringing me on-site if the salary expectations are wildly off.”
In my experience as a hiring manager, women share their prior salaries more than men do, and women negotiate in the interview process less than men do. If you do have to give a number first, ask for a little more than you feel is reasonable. Men on average ask for $7000 more than women do when negotiating. Instead of telling the employer your current salary number, say that your salary expectation would be between X and Y depending on the scope of the role. That frees you up to give a higher number than you currently make. Do not lie and say that your salary is more than it is. Some companies ask for recent pay stubs to confirm what you have told them.
6. If you have children, don’t assume it’s time to take a step down or go part-time
There must have been 6 or 7 times in my career when a super talented female product manager, engineering manager, or design manager has come to me because they want career advice. They are pregnant with their first or second child and haven’t told their boss yet. They are preparing for the discussion and are considering asking to leave management to go back to individual contributor work. Or alternatively they are considering asking for a part-time role.
Being an individual contributor isn’t easier or harder than being a manager, it’s just different. In fact, being a manager is often a more flexible way to work because most of what you do is cultural and not a physical deliverable. If you move back to an individual role because you miss being hands on and shipping work directly, then awesome! I encourage that change. If you have a baby and discover after 6 months that you enjoy your time with your baby more than the extra hours at work, going to part-time might make sense. If you love managing though, consider this a new challenge in prioritizing and delegating and wait to see how it goes. In my experience, women who go part-time end up working full-time but just getting paid less. Women who stick with full-time find that they are able to make it all work once the baby comes.
7. Talk to your manager about compensation openly
This may be obvious but I still think it’s important that I remind you to have an open compensation discussion with your manager once or twice per year. Examples of ways to bring this up:
“I’d like to have a chat about my salary with you the next time we meet. Do you feel you have a clear sense of where I’m at and what the market looks like for my role, or would it be helpful for me to gather some salary data too?”
“It’s been about 11 months since we last had a salary discussion and I wanted to confirm that we’ll be setting up a chat to talk about compensation in the coming weeks. Did you have that planned?”
Other reasonable questions I’ve been asked that I think are good:
“As a female employee, do you notice me being as proactive as men with regard to salary discussions? Is there more I should be doing to ensure I’m paid equally?”
“Does our company (or do you as my manager) have a way of ensuring that women are paid as much as men on this group? Do you check on that periodically?”
It’s unfortunate that women are still being paid less than men, particularly since this problem is relatively easy to solve. The truth is that a few simple federal or state policies could be implemented in in this country which would ensure equal pay for women & minorities. Each company can also easily take responsibility for this problem by working with HR to checking on pay rates across the organization by gender and ethnicity. Hopefully these tactics give you more confidence the next time you are in a compensation discussion, and empower you to vote for government policies that will make an impact on wage equality for all.