Did you celebrate Equal Pay Day last week?

The idea of ‘celebrating’ something like the Equal Pay Day kills me. This day in April marks the additional number of days a woman has to work just to earn as much as a man did in the year prior. It takes 4 months! This is not a thing to celebrate. So instead, I honored the experience of women and protested the day by joining my friend and colleague Emilie Aries, CEO/Founder of Bossed Up, on a panel to talk about just how far we have to go, and what I think we can do to accelerate things.

While on the panel, I shared a bit of my own experience with pay inequity. It goes like this…

I worked for a boutique consultancy and was kicking ass and taking names. I was on the best projects, getting great performance reviews, and believing I was as valued by the firm as any of my peers. I was wrong. Two years in, I was talking to a couple of my male colleagues/friends about financial goals and expectations and they shared their salaries with me. I was stunned. They were each making $20,000 more than me, with comparable education, experience and similar roles in the organization.

I know what you’re thinking…

Did I negotiate my butt off before accepting the job? Yes.
Did I do my research ahead of time about pay bands and industry standards? Yes.
Am I really as good as these two guys? Hell yes!

I immediately launched into action. I researched. I talked to mentors. I talked to friends and peers in similar roles. I made a plan to talk to my manager and HR, and advocated for myself based on my skills and the new information on hand. But as you might expect, no adjustments were made to my salary. I had a choice to make. I could stay where I was growing ever more resentful, or I could find opportunities with companies whose values aligned with my own. Very quickly after, I found a job somewhere else, and went into that negotiation determined to not get suckered again.  

As a culture, we suck at supporting young women entering the workforce. We talk an awful lot about acquiring technical skills, practicing for interviews, and having a strong work ethic. But we do not talk about pay: how to know your worth, negotiate for it, or course correct when you inevitably find out that your male counterpart is earning significantly more than you for equal work. By neglecting to teach women about these things, we are allowing the pay gap to persist.

What part can you play so that future generations don’t have to have this conversation?

1. Start talking about money.

Gals, start having the uncomfortable conversation with your friends, colleagues and mentors. And don’t just talk to women about it. When I have talked to my male friends and colleagues about it, they have been equally supportive and vocal on my behalf. It may be taboo, but the only way to remove a taboo is to power through the discomfort and have the conversations. Some people won’t play, and that’s ok. Remember, it’s illegal for your company to prohibit you from discussing your salary.

2. Be a hard charger when negotiating your starting salary.

Negotiating your starting salary is your best shot at parity. Do your research and then do some more. Know that the company representatives have a duty to get the best talent for the best price. They are just doing their job. But it’s your job to advocate for yourself, so do it shamelessly.

3. In negotiations, do not share your previous salary.

Resist answering any questions about previous salaries. In fact, California has made it illegal to ask this question, and others will soon follow suit. Until then, redirect the question by answering based on your knowledge of industry and level standards. Language you can use could be, “I’d prefer to focus around what the industry demands, which is $xyz/year.”

4. Be an ally

Don’t let the pay gap be the sole responsibility of women and people of color. This is where men and white women can really step up to the plate. Our organizations are stronger, faster and more innovative when we have diverse groups who are fairly compensated for their time and talents. Even if you don’t have concerns about your own pay level, ask your HR department about the company’s approach to equitable pay. If you’re a manager hiring new employees, inquire about the pay bands and advocate for your incoming team member.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have followed my own advice and shamelessly advocated for myself. We need to stop with the Equal Pay Day platitudes and start changing behavior and bringing others along on the journey.  My company, Four Letter Consulting understands this reality and works with organizations to lead and create the cultural changes that must take place to make celebrating Equal Pay Day a thing of the past. Once that happens, the first round of champagne’s on me.