What You Can Do About the Gender Wage Gap

Published September 13, 2012 in Role/Reboot

On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released data for 2011 showing that the gender wage gap remains unchanged from 2010. For every dollar a man earns working full time, a woman working full time earns 77 cents.

The disparity exists across virtually all occupations—women earn less than men of comparable education, experience, and seniority. From the moment a woman throws her graduation cap into the air to the moment she retires, she earns less than a similarly-situated man.

In 2011, the median annual earnings for women working full-time, year-round were $37,118. The comparable amount for men was $48,202. That $11,084 differential significantly affects the quality of life for women and their families. That amount is the equivalent of 92 weeks of groceries or 13 months of rent.

As dramatic as the annual difference is, the gap becomes a gaping chasm over a 40-year career. The lifetime wage gap for a woman with a high school diploma is $392,000 on average. The gap increases to $452,000 for women with some college. Women with a bachelor’s degree typically lose a staggering $713,000 over their working lives.

Although this analysis measures the gap by looking at broad education levels, the trend is the same when specific occupations are considered. The more education that is required for a particular job, the greater the gap.

The disparities are unfair to the point of being immoral. Worse, the ratio of 77 to 100 was the same for every year since 2002 with the exception of 2003 when it dropped to 76 to 100 and 2007 when it surged to 78 to 100.

Federal law prohibits pay distinctions between men and women but has loopholes big enough to march a battalion of advantaged men through.

The government isn’t going to level the playing field for women. What can you do for yourself?

Learn how to negotiate for better pay.

Don’t let the word “negotiate” scare you. Think of it as a dialogue with your boss. It isn’t a confrontation—it’s a conversation. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by doing your homework. Find out what salaries employees with similar skills and responsibilities are receiving in your industry and geographic area.
  2. Ask for an appointment with your boss to discuss “expectations.” This isn’t a conversation to have on the fly.
  3. Practice what you’re going to say. Get your opening lines down pat. Memorize them. You’ll be most nervous at the beginning of the conversation and knowing your lines will reduce the stress.
  4. Start on a positive note. “I’ve enjoyed working with you.”
  5. Your pitch should center on what your employer’s priorities are and how you have helped achieve them. Have you brought in new clients? Enhanced the company’s reputation? Provided above and beyond customer service? If you’ve taken on additional responsibilities, mention them.
  6. Assume you will succeed to bolster your confidence. And remember the man in the next cubicle performing the same job with the same training and experience is probably earning 30% more than you are!

 

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2 thoughts on “What You Can Do About the Gender Wage Gap

  1. Your recommendations are sound for perhaps every job a woman could hold, other than that of law firm partner. After 22 years of practice, I’ve seen the disparity only increase. Senior management’s temerity and contempt for discrimination laws increase with the size of the firm. They will either refuse to answer the questions you’ve recommended, or outright lie in answering them. They have unlimited resources to fight a discrimination suit, unfettered ability and motivation to destroy the woman’s reputation, and have trained us all to believe that our careers would be ruined if we filed suit which we could never win — even if any of us wished upon ourselves the years of hell that would follow the filing of a discrimination suit if we could find a firm interested in representing us. Even plaintiffs’ employment firms are not interested in suits filed by female lawyers against their firms. Unless the EEOC begins taking action and obtaining massive judgments, law firms will never change. They are run by the men who lacked athletic ability and social skills in high school — discriminating against women is the ultimate revenge of these nerds. They will never give it up willingly.

    • I agree with virtually everything that you have written. Class action suits by females are my personal best hope for reforming Biglaw.

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