4 Ways to Shrink Your Wage Gap

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What to do if you think you’re paid less than your male colleague?

Realizing you’re paid less than your male peer can be a hard blow. It saps your confidence. It can strain your relationships – not to mention crush your productivity and morale. Recently I had the chance to weigh in on this critical issue with Juliana Reyes of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a piece where 6 brave women shared their pay inequity stories. I offered tips on how to combat the wage gap, which are summarized below.

Know the going rate.

If you squirm at the thought of asking your colleagues exactly how much they’re making, then pivot your request slightly. Try asking how much they’re hoping to land in terms of a percentage of their raise or how much they made when they first started at the job. You can also ask the range they hope to fall within at review time. It helps if you have evidence to share, such as the latest salary report for your industry. Remember: Employers can’t legally tell you not to discuss salary. While you’re at it, check out industry data from trade associations, industry competitors, and websites such as Glassdoor and Payscale. If a headhunter calls you with an opportunity (even if you’re not interested), always talk to the person, as it’s a great way to see what employers are offering for someone *like you* right now.

Prep before you make your ask.

Schedule a meeting with your manager just as you would for an important project. Come in prepared and ready to make an objective case for yourself. Data is important here. But so is framing. Don’t open with talk about the wage gap or what your male colleague Mark is making. (If you do, it could encourage your manager to begin telling you all the reasons Mark is wonderful or exceptional). Instead, focus on yourself. Have a list of your accomplishments at the ready. But make sure to give yourself time to prep. Even if you’re rightfully enraged about being underpaid, a drive-by negotiation rarely ends up getting anyone the results they want.

Figure out a plan in case you get a “no”.

If you get pushback, don’t slink away defeated.  Engage your boss and elongate the conversation. One woman executive I talked to described getting a ‘no,’ and then asking what, exactly, her boss needed that he wasn’t getting in terms of her skills. Pushing for that specific information, and then working on it, landed her a major promotion and pay raise not long thereafter.  Another way to frame this is, “What are the conditions that need to be true for me to move up/increase my pay?”

Analyze your wage gap with a lawyer.

If you feel you’re being discriminated against, don’t be shy about talking to an employment lawyer. Do your own research and study the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website (it’s the agency that enforces the Equal Pay Act). Familiarize yourself with the Commission’s rules: For example, if you want to allege discrimination, you have to compare yourself to another role that’s considered “substantially equal.” Know that if you formally file a complaint, your name will be attached to it. It’s important to first read about others who have fought a wage gap and been through the process so that you can make an informed decision.

Thankfully, not all companies are turning a blind-eye to pay inequity.  In fact earlier this month I wrote in Forbes about six innovative ways companies are attempting to flatten the wage gap. Check it out and chime in with your ideas below!

Selena Rezvani

Selena Rezvani is a recognized consultant, speaker and author on women and leadership.  A seasoned human capital consultant, Selena uses workplace culture assessments to help corporate clients be more inclusive and welcoming to women.  She’s also the author of two leadership books targeted at professional women – Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and The Next Generation of Women Leaders (Praeger, 2009). Selena has been featured in the LA Times, Oprah.com, Todayshow.com, Forbes, and wrote an award-winning column on women for The Washington Post.

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