I am a child of the ’80s. By the time I was born, Geraldine Ferraro had been a vice presidential candidate. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain. Women were earning 49% of all master’s degrees and 33% of doctoral degrees. Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. My mom worked a full-time job. Growing up, there was no doubt in my mind that as a woman, I could be and do anything.
Today, I know a little better. As women, we are certainly capable of doing anything, but there are strong headwinds against us. Today, on Equal Pay Day, it’s important to recognize one of the biggest obstacles women face: the gender pay gap, which leaves women earning 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, and even less if you are a woman of color.
This gap grows with age and can have lifelong effects, including less ability to pay back student loans, smaller Social Security payments, smaller pensions, and reduced disability and life insurance benefits.
I’ve heard many arguments – usually from men – that the pay gap exists because women choose lower paying occupations and because they leave the workforce to have children. While this accounts for some of the difference in pay, women experience pay gaps at every educational level and in nearly every line of work.
Moreover, when the American Association of University Women (AAUW) accounted for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region and marital status there was still a 7% difference between earnings of male and female college graduates one year out of school, and the difference jumped to 12% 10 years after graduation.
The gender gap is real, and it will take commitment and deliberate action on the part of individuals and institutions to close the gap once and for all. In honor of Equal Pay Day, below are five ways you can do your part to close the pay gap:
Negotiate your starting salary. I know. It’s scary. But, because raises and benefits are often based on your starting salary, a lower starting wage can have lifelong consequences.
When negotiating your starting salary, make a list of all of your skills and accomplishments and explain why they are worth what you’re asking. It’s also helpful to know the going rate for positions like the one you’re seeking, so be sure to do your market research beforehand.
Ask for a raise. Your starting salary is just that – a start. Over the next months and years, you’ll be given the opportunity to continuously increase your pay by asking for a raise. Having a strategy before you enter performance review season will help you be more successful.
Start a Women’s Network. If your company does not already offer a Women’s Network or Women’s Resource Group, start one! There is power in numbers, and as a group you will be better positioned to advocate for not only better pay, but also better parental leave policies, development opportunities, and leadership training.
Apply for that promotion. A Hewlitt Packard study found that women will only apply for a position if they meet 100% of the job requirements, while men will apply if they meet only 60% of them. Don’t self-select out before you’ve even gotten the chance to explore the opportunity.
Use your cover letter or interview to advocate for yourself and explain how your skills will allow you to make valuable contributions to the role. And when you get that nagging doubt about applying, think of all those men who are not playing by your same rules.
Advocate for policy changes. Becoming politically active is a great way to help all women reach wage parity. Support equal wage legislation and encourage your representatives to do the same. Use the power of social media, join an organization that shares your values, write letters to your local newspapers, or start a blog. Make your voice heard!
Natalia Marulanda is a former practicing attorney who currently works on women's initiatives at a law firm New York City. She also runs The Girl Power Code, a blog dedicated to empowering women in the workplace and in their daily lives.
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