By Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)
We’ve all heard it before: By not negotiating, women sacrifice thousands of dollars by the end of their professional lives. Recent research has revealed, however, that the number is closer to half a million.
Linda Babcock, a Carnegie Mellon University economics professor and co-author of the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, surveyed M.B.A. students who graduated in 2002 and 2003 and found that those who negotiated received up to 8 percent more than what they were initially offered. Of those two graduating classes, 52 percent of the men negotiated their salaries, compared to only 12 percent of women. Even more frustrating, women who do step up and negotiate are seen in a negative light, thought to be “too pushy.”
In her research, Babcock had people in their 20s and 30s watch tapes of men and women negotiate using the same tactics. Viewers said they found the women demanding, while they considered the men’s behavior acceptable.
The Reality of the Wage Gap
For some, the “demanding” characterization may not be worth the risk, but the wage gap is a very real thing that women must contend with. The tremendous achievements women have made in education during the last 30 years have only resulted in modest improvements in pay equity. On average, women only make between 70 and 75 cents for every dollar a male colleague makes who has a similar skill set, similar educational background, and who is performing the same work. In some states; however, the numbers are even more unsettling. For women in Louisiana it’s 66 cents on the dollar and for women in Utah it’s 68 cents. And the wage gap is even more severe for women of color.
Kate Farrar, director of leadership programs for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), contends that sometimes, the pay gap boils down to unfair bias.
“Whether it’s unconscious or conscious, it’s still discrimination,” Farrar said. “This is never going to go away. In workplace culture, negotiation will always exist. Rather than seeing it as something that’s scary or intimidating, women need to view it as an opportunity to get what they deserve as employees and in the long run, it helps other women receive equal pay as well.”
Learning to Negotiate Early
It’s a common misconception that the wage gap is something women experience later in their careers as they climb the corporate ladder. In actuality, it’s something women face during their first job out of college. AAUW’s report Behind the Pay Gap revealed that one year out of college, women working fulltime earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues. Then, about 10 years after graduation, women fall even farther behind, earning only 69 percent as much as men.
This is part of the reason AAUW partnered up with the WAGE Project in 2009 for $tart $mart Salary Negotiation Workshops. Originally piloted by WAGE in 2007, the workshops are currently taking place on college campuses across the country with the goal of teaching college women to negotiate for salaries and benefits as they enter the job market.
Gail Johnson is a $tart $mart workshop facilitator and an adjunct lecturer at the College of Business & Technology at the University of Texas at Tyler with over three decades of experience in management at Fortune 500/1000 level companies. The biggest issue she faces with her students is their inability to communicate their value in the workplace, which is why Johnson’s courses place emphasis on professional branding. “Young women already have to face the wage gap from the get-go, so not being able to tell employers why they’re valuable will only put them further behind,” Johnson said. “If finding out how much less they’re set to make than their male colleagues isn’t enough to snap them out of it, then nothing will.”
Johnson tells a story that should give most women a jolt. After an AAUW event, the lecturer was speaking to Lilly Ledbetter, the woman whose name accompanies the Fair Pay Act. It is common knowledge that Ledbetter received no compensation at all as a result of the law passed in her name, but during her conversation with Johnson, the trailblazer revealed that her male counterparts are making $1,000 more than her in retirement each month.
“I know all about the issues, but hearing her say that really made me pause,” Johnson said. “It’s all tied together. If you don’t learn to negotiate, if you don’t demand to be paid the rate you’re worth, it doesn’t just affect you in the short-term. Getting the salary you deserve is so important, but it’s about more than a salary; it’s about your retirement benefits and your quality of life once you stop working. It’s no coincidence that the group going into poverty the fastest is elderly women.”
Does Focusing on the Wage Gap Hold Women Back?
Matt Wallaert, founder of GetRaised, cautioned that focusing on the wage gap can actually hold women back. GetRaised is a website that helps users construct a raise request using a salary engine that determines how much a person should be making based on their educational background, location, skill set, job, and other criteria.
“The gender pay gap is problematic on a social level, but the issue has to be addressed on a personal basis,” he said. “It’s understood that everyone should be paid fairly, so focusing on the gap marginalizes it to a women’s issue.”
“The problem is that people are being paid less than market value. Yes, it happens more to women than it does to men, but when you don’t address the issue on a case-by-case basis, it becomes easier for people to dismiss the issue because women have children or get married or take lower-paying jobs. These are the byproducts of the wage gap; we need to be focusing on why individual women are being paid less than they should be.”