As much progress as women have made in the workplace, that stubborn gender pay gap still exists: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made 83 cents to every dollar that men earned in 2021. And at the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates it will take roughly 136 years for the gap to close on a global level.
Translation: It will always be important for women to advocate for themselves to ensure they are being paid what they’re worth. The good news is there are tangible steps you can take to help make that happen. Whether you’re looking to move up in your current job or want to find a new job altogether, here are five ways you can help close the gender pay gap for yourself.
1. Don’t put off asking for a raise or promotion
If it’s been a while since your last salary increase or promotion, or you've taken on new roles and responsibilities that go beyond your current title, don’t hesitate to remind your manager that you’d love to initiate a conversation about how you can be compensated for your efforts.
"Many women wait, thinking someone's going to recognize their good work and reward them,” says Foram Sheth, cofounder and chief coaching officer at career coaching company Ama La Vida. “But this isn't a moment where you wait for someone to come to you — it requires you to be proactive.”
A recent Glassdoor survey found that 73 percent of employed women did not ask for a pay increase during the pandemic, compared to 58 percent of men. “So the gender pay gap is influenced by women receiving raises at a lower frequency, but also receiving lower starting salaries and lower raise amounts,” says Benjamin Artz, professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, who has done research on the gender gap in business.
It helps to quantify what you bring to the company. “Show up with evidence of how much you're contributing to the organization so you can say, ‘I’m worth more because of all the things I do,’” Artz says. If you've completed projects that helped the company reach its revenue goals, call them out, while highlighting the average pay scale for someone in your position. Enlisting mentors or sponsors who can advocate for your work can go a long way.
A raise likely won't happen overnight, but it's all about planting the seed, Sheth says. Waiting until your annual review to ask for a raise may be too late, as budget decisions for the following year may already be set in stone.
2. Don’t use your previous pay as a benchmark
If you’re on the hunt for a new job, don’t use your old or current salary as a starting point for negotiations. After all, if that figure has been subject to the wage gap up until now, basing future negotiations on it won't do much to help close the gap. That’s why a handful of states have made it illegal for prospective employers to ask about your salary history when going through the hiring process.
The state of the job market also comes into play. The way we work has dramatically changed since the pandemic began. On average, close to 4 million U.S. workers quit their jobs each month in 2021, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. If you’re looking for better compensation, current labor demands could tip the scales in your favor.
“It’s the employee’s market right now,” Sheth says. “Be choosy about what you want and don’t settle for less.”
3. Research what a competitive salary should be
So how do you know where to start negotiating? This is where you need to do some market research by checking sites like Glassdoor or PayScale. Tap your peers and recruiters in your field for their insight as well. Then, ask for more. "The worst that can happen, especially if you're looking for a new job, is they'll just say no and come back with a lower number,” Sheth says. Have a good amount of experience or a particularly robust skill set? Sheth says to rate yourself even higher.
And remember: Most organizations expect people to negotiate and will have a range to work within, so consider the first number they give you to be a jumping-off point. Overall compensation appears to be on the rise in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages and salaries increased 4.5 percent from 2020 to 2021.
4. Think beyond salary
If you need more motivation to push for a higher figure, remember that it’s not just your salary at stake — your pay will have a trickle-down effect on other financial goals like saving for retirement or paying off debt.
So how else can a potential or current employer help you get ahead in other areas of your finances? Does it offer a 401(k) match (and, if so, are you fully taking advantage of it)? Is the company open to benefits like helping you cover childcare? If you’ve asked your manager for a raise but it’s off the table right now, can they offer an on-the-spot bonus that you can put toward your financial goals?
Advocate with human resources for the perks you think will help you the most. If management says they’d be willing to give you a pay increase or spot bonus a few months down the road, get it in writing.
“It can be an email or some sort of a trail where you can come back and say, ‘Hey, I remember we had this conversation. I'm so excited about it; what's going to be our plan?’” Sheth says. She suggests thinking in terms of what you need. A more flexible work arrangement, for example, may be just as valuable as money.
“Consider what else you need to feel supported,” Sheth adds. “You may want to negotiate that the company pay for executive coaching or provide flexible mental health days. Think critically about what you need to feel sane and to grow, and protect that.”
5. Get a competing offer
Even if you’re happy in your current position, it never hurts to put some feelers out there or be open to opportunities that come your way. Getting a competing offer could be the thing that pushes your salary to the next level, Artz says — it shows management that other employers are willing to pay up for your talents and skills. “There's a little bit of risk attached to that, but it’s also one of the reasons that some people get raises at their jobs,” he says.
He adds that income boosts are often tied to job switching and geographic movement. The latter could create built-in challenges for women, especially since two out of every three caregivers are female. The bright side is that the surge in remote work may allow you to entertain a competing offer that doesn’t involve relocating.
“Women in business professional occupations can now seek remote work opportunities that they otherwise never would have dreamed of pursuing,” Artz says.
No matter your strategy, one truth remains — overcoming the gender pay gap comes down to you. As Sheth puts it: “Take control of this because no one else is going to do it for you.”