Every year Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how much further into the year women must work to make the same as men did the previous year, is a reminder that the gender wage gap still persists: In 2018, women earned 85 percent of what men earned, according to the Pew Research Center.
The good news: There are practical steps you can take now to start to even the playing field, whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to move up in your current one. Here are five ways you can help close the gender pay gap — and start getting paid what you’re worth.
DON'T USE PREVIOUS PAY AS A SALARY BENCHMARK
If your pay has been subject to the wage gap up until now, basing future negotiations on your current salary isn’t going to do much to close it. A handful of states have started to recognize this as well and have made it illegal for employers to ask about your salary history during the hiring process.
RESEARCH WHAT A COMPETITIVE SALARY IS FOR YOUR ROLE
So how do you know where to start negotiating if you’re on the job hunt? Get a realistic read on what other people in your role are earning by checking sites like Glassdoor or PayScale, as well as by asking other people or recruiters in your field. Then, aim higher.
"Ask for more,” says Foram Sheth, cofounder and leadership coach at career coaching company Ama La Vida. "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." Have a good amount of experience or a particularly robust skill set? Sheth says to rate yourself even higher.
Go into the interview process having already determined what you're worth. And remember: Most organizations expect people to negotiate and will have a buffer to work with, so consider the first number they give you to be a jumping off point — then work up from there.
DON'T WAIT TO HAVE THE RAISE OR PROMOTION TALK
You don't have to land a new job to also land a well-deserved raise. If it’s been a while since your last salary increase or promotion, it may be time to initiate the conversation.
"Many women wait, thinking someone's going to recognize their good work and reward them,” Sheth says. “But this isn't a moment where you wait for someone to come to you — it requires you to be proactive.”
Again, this is where your salary research comes in handy. But it can also help 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,’ ” says Benjamin Artz, associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, who has done research on the gender gap in business.
In other words, it's time to quantify your worth in black-and-white terms. If you've completed projects that successfully moved the needle on the company's 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 and following up, Sheth says. After all, waiting to have this conversation until your annual review may be too late, as decisions on pay for the following year may already be set in stone.
THINK BEYOND SALARY
So how else can your company help you catch up in other areas of your finances? Are you fully taking advantage of a 401(k) match? Are they open to benefits like helping you cover child care? Or if a raise is 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. And 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.
GET A COMPETING OFFER
Even if you’re happy in your position, it never hurts to put some feelers out into the job market. After all, presenting your employer with a competing offer could be the thing that pushes your salary to the next level, Artz says. It essentially shows them that your talent and skills are indeed worth it, and other organizations are willing to pay you accordingly.
“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,” 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.”