Originally published by The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report
“How do you recommend that I explain to my daughter about the gender wage gap and the inequality that she will face in the workplace?”
Mary, a young woman who appeared to be in her early twenties, posed her question to me with a sincere concern and conviction.
When I inquired about the age of her daughter, she replied, “Oh, I do not have children yet, I am not pregnant, and I am not even in a relationship.”
Mary was preparing herself for a conversation that she thought inevitable with a daughter she may or may not have. She felt she needed to be ready to warn the next generation of women about the gender inequality she was experiencing firsthand in her career and hearing about in the media.
Her question alarmed me because it revealed that she believed these issues were unfixable and generations of professional women would be subject to the same inequality years to come. She saw the necessity of a warning instead of the path to change.
Her question immediately brought me back to an experience I had twelve years ago when I was overjoyed to receive what I thought was an amazing job package. I felt the salary exceeded my worth. At that time, I didn’t see that my happiness and excitement clouded a crucial lesson that my MBA instructors always stressed: never accept an offer without negotiating first. I was thankful to receive such a generous offer, I immediately erased everything I learned, bypassed the pains of negotiating, and accepted the offer.
A year later, while chatting with my co-worker David, our conversation turned to the recruitment process we had both experienced. Much to my surprise, he disclosed his salary to me, and I was immediately overwhelmed with shock. Not only was David openly sharing how much he made with me—something I didn’t realize people did—but, far beyond that shock, he was making a whole $10,000 more than me annually for the same exact job.
In my eyes, we were equals: we both recently completed our master’s degrees, we both were selected for the same leadership program, and we both had the same manager. So why the extreme salary difference?
I was deeply distraught; a person who paralleled my skill level and experience was making thousands more than me. Long after returning home for the day, my mind was circling with thoughts of how that extra $10,000 would affect me financially. I found myself calculating how much faster my student loans would be paid off and longing for the financial comfort that would come with a higher salary.
Then, after hours of sitting with these uncomfortable feelings, I realized David’s extra $10,000 was not given to him because he was better than me. Rather, David understood the value of his skills and he went to the table ready to negotiate his salary to reflect his value. In contrast, I was unaware of the value of my skills, unprepared for negotiations, and therefore satisfied with accepting an offer that was less than what I deserved.
In response to Mary’s question, I suggest that she explain to her daughter that women have a choice regarding pay inequality. We can choose to continue being upset over this injustice and hope someone will fix the unequal system for us as we wait for a slight closure in the wage gap, or we can take ownership.
Here are three ways to take ownership of your own career:
- Always negotiate job offers. Don’t just be content that someone is giving you a job. Instead, understand your value and prepare to negotiate a salary that fits that value ahead of time. Do so by researching the market and getting a sense of the salary range that aligns with your experience and qualifications.
- Use the negotiation process as an opportunity to show your professionalism and communication skills. Be prepared to demonstrate and communicate the value you bring to the business’ bottom line. If you’re unsure what value you bring to the business, take some time to reflect on this before negotiating.
- Realize that you are capable. You have what it takes to do an outstanding job and you will do the best when you know you are being fairly compensated.
If we wish to live in a world where we don’t have to worry about explaining wage and workplace inequalities to our daughters, then we must first build our own self-worth, understand our value in the market, and harness the power of negotiation.
It is time to close this wage gap, lets do it for us and for our daughters.