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Let's Close the Pay Gap

Having managed large teams of both men and women one noticeable difference I witnessed is how aggressive and focused men are in asking for what they want. This really stood out to me because I myself had never been forward and aggressive in asking for more pay or advocating for myself.

Why is this? I think it is that most women are programmed early in life to . . . not ask. We’ve been told to “wait to be asked”. I saw this play out just last week when a young woman in my neighborhood and I were discussing her distress over the fact that a boy she had dated all year asked another person to the prom. When I asked her why she didn’t just ask someone else her reply was, “Oh no, I can’t do that. Girls don’t do that.”

This cultural norm follows women into the corporate world. I was recently mentoring a young woman who was reticent to ask for an upgrade in title and salary commensurate with the additional tasks and responsibility she had been assigned and was performing. She didn't understand why her boss didn't just know that she was doing the work. I reminded her that his job was to see the larger picture and it was her responsibility to connect the dots for him on how things were getting done so seamlessly.

The data says only 7% of women versus 57% of men negotiated for more money last year when accepting jobs fresh out of college. This is significant because those who did ask, on average, received 8% more pay. We will never close the pay gap if we don’t encourage girls to advocate for themselves and create a culture where it is ok to have the conversation. Data also suggests that women are frowned upon when they do advocate for themselves. I have been spending lots of time talking with women about this matter as I have traveled the country on book tour. Why is there still such a double standard for women when we ask for fair and equal pay?

Today 40% of women are the primary breadwinners of their households. There is no reason why we should not be getting equal pay for equal work. Yet today we earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. In a recent study by Wells Fargo the numbers are not getting better for younger people. In their study millennial women are earning on average $51,000 annually while their male counter parts are earning $77,000 per year.

We must encourage women to advocate for themselves and teach them how. Here are some of my tips:

Be Grounded in Facts. If you have taken on a job with more responsibility there is no reason why you should not ask for more compensation. Simply make the business case and stick to the facts. Do your homework and know what others are being paid (inside and outside of your company) for the same type of work. There are many great sources such as for doing this type of analysis. Remember that timing is everything. While you don’t want to ask for a raise if your company has just announced layoffs or if it is in financial trouble; you should do your homework and be prepared to make your case when the time is right.

Prepare Your Boss for the Conversation. Make sure you have prepared your boss for this type of discussion. Don’t hit them cold with the idea of giving you a raise or promotion. You can send an email and mention that you would like to discuss your pay or position level. Alternatively you can schedule an appointment and make sure they know what you would like to discuss. Another time for this discussion is during your job review with your boss. Many times in my career I expected my boss to take responsibility for this type of conversation. That was a mistake. I should have been more proactive in advocating for myself and taken more of a proactive approach in those meetings.

Be Creative. Compensation is not just about money. There are things you can ask for that are of value beyond money. I always advise mentees to consider asking about sponsoring advanced education, working on a high profile special project with exposure to senior management, club memberships, additional vacation, industry association memberships and conferences, shadowing and job development opportunities, international opportunities, telecommuting and flexible work hours and other opportunities to be showcased in front of senior management. Get creative when a company tells you the job is market tested and only pays within a certain range. There are many ways to be compensated. Do not expect anyone else to do this for you. If you don’t advocate for yourself you certainly should not expect anyone else to.

Sell Yourself. If you are in a sales job you should especially negotiate for what you want. In doing so you are displaying the skills you will deploy on behalf of your employer. If you are not in sales, it’s time to rethink your approach. If you don’t share your accomplishments, plans and requirements who will? Your boss (and company) need you to communicate. If you are not very good at advocating for yourself, how good will you be at advocating for the company – for your team or department.

Practice. Practice with a friend, mentor or spouse as this too can take out the emotion and help to frame a concise proposal. Consider practicing or talking with someone who is not so close to you or the situation because it can help you see things from a different perspective.

When you make ‘the ask’ don’t be emotional. Stay grounded in the facts. Listen to understand. As humans we far overestimate the consequences of failing to get what we ask for. Even if you don’t get the raise you have provided insights on the value you bring to the team and enhanced your chances for a raise in the future. You will also learn new insights on what is expected to get considered for a raise in the future. So push yourself outside your comfort zone and make the ask…I DARE you.

- Becky Blalock, trailblazer to the C-suite and author of the best selling book DARE: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage and Career.

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