6 Steps That Will Help You Conquer the Gender Pay Gap

Splashing your office's Slack channel with fire GIFs isn't the answer (yet)

apw-squarespacegender pay

As a workplace advice columnist, I receive lots of letters about how to ask for a raise. One piece of advice I’ve traditionally given over and over is to base your raise request on your own work and not to use your coworker’s salary as an argument for why you should be paid more. But there’s one big exception to that: when the disparity in your salary might be based on gender.

It can be incredibly frustrating when you realize or suspect that you’re being paid less than your male coworkers. A big part of that frustration is because many women have internalized the idea that we shouldn’t compare our salaries to coworkers’, or we think we’re not supposed to know what our coworkers make at all. In just the last few months, I’ve had conversations with half a dozen women who learned that male colleagues doing similar work were getting paid significantly more, but who were afraid to say anything because “we’re not supposed to know what other people make,” or “if I bring it up, my boss will want to know where my information came from.” Also, it’s not always easy to be confident that what you’re seeing is rooted in sexism; you might wonder whether it could have some more legitimate explanation, and that can make you doubt yourself and feel squeamish about speaking up.

Before we go any further, let’s be clear: Paying men and women differently for the same work is illegal. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 outlawed paying “less than the rate at which [the employer] pays wages to employees of the opposite sex … for equal work.” But it happens. And it happens for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s outright, open sexism. But more often, it’s more subtle than that—like that men negotiate more aggressively or successfully than women, or are more forthright about going after raises. Some studies even show that women are perceived more poorly when they try to negotiate.

So if you’re facing this issue yourself, or wonder if you are, how can speak up professionally and effectively? As part of APW’s career conversations with Squarespace, I want to help you answer that question. Here’s what to do if you suspect or find out that you’re being paid less than similarly qualified male coworkers:

1. Get past any awkwardness about comparing salaries. We have a cultural norm of not talking openly about pay, and that tends to be especially true within our own individual offices. That, of course, makes it harder to find out about salary disparities and harder to talk about them when they’re uncovered. Employers generally take full advantage of that and discourage people from sharing information about their pay. But if you suspect you’re being paid less than male coworkers, talking with your coworkers is going to be one of the fastest, most direct ways to gather information. Don’t let feelings of awkwardness around salary discussions stop you from pushing forward with getting the information you need. If you’re not comfortable asking a colleague to tell you his or her salary, you can often get plenty of information by simply saying, “What’s your sense of what someone in this role here should be earning?”

(By the way, those “don’t discuss your salary with each other” rules are often illegal. The National Labor Relations Act says that employers cannot prohibit nonsupervisory employees from discussing pay with each other, although workplace policies doing exactly that are oddly common anyway.)

2. Analyze the situation as objectively as possible. There are legitimate reasons why a coworker doing similar work might be making more than you—things like coming in with more experience, a particular kind of experience or educational background, or producing a higher level of results (such as bringing in more clients or managing more complex projects). But if you look at your coworker’s qualifications and work output and don’t see an explanation for the pay differential, you might be looking at a wage gap that’s tied to gender in some way.

3. Talk with your manager. Start out with something like this: “Given the recent attention paid to gender-based salary inequality, I’m concerned about the salary disparity between Bob and me. Can you help me understand why our salaries are so different, despite the fact that we started here at the same time and I manage a larger team than he does?”

Note that at this stage, you’re approaching the conversation as if you’re seeking to understand the salary disparity—not necessarily making a complaint (yet). After all, there might be reasons for the gap that you’d find compelling but don’t yet know about, so you don’t want to go in guns blazing. You can always escalate the seriousness of your tone and your actions if you need to. (If you’re wondering if it wouldn’t be easier to just ask for a raise without invoking your coworker’s salary at all, that’s certainly an option, and you could simply use your knowledge of your coworker’s salary as background information that helps you figure out how much to ask for. But with that approach, you risk getting a raise that doesn’t close the gap. Plus, there’s value in explicitly pointing out that your employer may have a gender problem in how they’re paying people.)

4. Don’t let the conversation become about how you know your coworker’s salary. Some managers might focus on how and why you know your male coworker’s salary. If that happens, try redirecting the conversation with, “I really don’t want us to get sidetracked on that question, because the real issue is the pay disparity. For the purpose of this conversation, can we tackle that?”

5. If you don’t get anywhere with your manager, talk with HR. HR is more likely to be trained to recognize that gender pay gaps can pose significant legal and PR problems for the company, so they may be more easily moved to action. Your boss, on the other hand, may not be thrilled that you’ve gone over her head, so it’s smart to also ask HR to ensure that you don’t face retaliation from your manager for talking with them. (This should go without saying, but retaliation can be subtle—sometimes subtle to the point that managers don’t even realize they’re doing it, so it can be helpful for HR to remind them.)

6. If you believe that gender discrimination is in play, you have legal options available to you. You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and they’ll request pay data from your employer and investigate the complaint. Or, if you’re not sure that you want to go that route, you might find it helpful to talk with a lawyer about what your next steps should be. Talking with a lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean suing; lawyers can help with all sorts of steps that don’t involve actual lawsuits—even just advising you in the background while you negotiate with your employer.

Advocating for what your work is worth can be uncomfortable, especially when it means pointing out potential sexism—or law-breaking!—in your workplace. But the more we keep quiet when we suspect gender-based pay disparities, the easier it is for the problem to continue. On the flip side of that, the more we advocate for ourselves and each other and the more we bring pay inequality into the open, the less the burden will fall to individual women to fix the problem on their own.

have you successfully negotiated for a pay raise? what worked for you—and what didn’t?


This post was sponsored by Squarespace. This year we are partnering with Squarespace to bring you a series of career conversations about what it means to be a woman in the workplace in 2016. If you’re in the market for a new job or looking to explore your options, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to create a home online where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub where you can display just how awesome you are. Squarespace provides the creative tools that make it easy to build your online home beautifully, even if you’ve never made a website before and have no idea where to start. In conjunction with our career series this year, Squarespace is offering APWers a 10% discount on yearly subscriptions when you use the code APW16 at checkout. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.

Pink Line

Meet APW Business Woman Erin Szymanski!

Glitter and Grit

My name is Erin Szymanski, and I’m the owner of Glitter & Grit, an indie bridal boutique in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I use Squarespace for the website for my store so potential clients can find a fresh representation of my brand online. I really wanted to update my old website to something with a homepage that would be a true attention-grabber, but that I could still update myself. I set up my Squarespace site one hundred percent independently and am so thrilled with the results, and with the ease of both setting up the site and maintaining it. It’s so user-friendly that I can quickly make changes and updates and move on to other tasks.

Alison Green

As the blogger behind Ask a Manager, Alison Green functions as the Dear Abby of the workplace, answering readers’ questions daily on career, job search, and management issues. She’s also the author of How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager and Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Getting Results, and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • savannnah

    SQWEEE: AAM+APW lovechild post. all the yays.

  • Lisa

    Oh my goodness!! This is a collaboration between two of my favorite blogs, and I don’t think I could be any happier. I’m fangirl-ing so hard right now.

    • emmers

      Hahaha, me tooooo! I was like, “Whoa, is that THE Alison Green???”

    • lindsayinMPLS

      I KNOW. I was reading this and was like, “daaamn, this author is providing useful, specific language like AAM does.”

    • emilyg25

      I was like “Oh, Alison Green. Must be a guest submission. WAIT. Alison Green?????”

  • Alice

    Any advice for approaching this in smaller businesses? I think this is great advice, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to turn after the manager doesn’t take you seriously and there’s no HR department. I guess speaking to a lawyer is always an option, but one doesn’t want to escalate things any further than necessary. I mention it since pay disparity is a bit of an issue in the vet and (perhaps?) GP worlds, but unless it’s a corporate pracrice there’s usually not much chain of command, and I imagine that’s true for other smaller businesses as well.

    • emilyg25

      Unfortunately, you might need to find another job (and negotiate your starting salary well!).

    • Kate

      I’ve run a small business for a few years, and emilyg25 is spot on. We don’t have a difference between male and female staff pays (it’s pretty female dominated anyway) but there is only so much money to go around. When we hire, we ask people why they would work here because they may well make more money doing x, y or z. At the end of the day, we pay people well above the award (minimum per job in Australia) but I always respect that people may hone their skills and move on. I would pay everyone so, so much more if I could!

      It’s still important to raise gender pay gaps in a small business, because the people in charge may not even know they’re doing it (though it seems like a really flimsy excuse), and it’s worth talking to the big boss/your direct manager and to the person in charge of pays. If they aren’t listening, it’s definitely time to walk. Not having heaps of cash to throw around is one thing, paying one gender more is absolutely not ok, and no matter how small the business, they have to face it.

  • I once negotiated a raise by getting another job offer. It was risky, but it worked. My boss knew I was not happy with my current salary. I got offered another job (outside the company) for a higher salary. I then went to my boss and had an awkward conversation that went something like this. “I wanted to let you know I have been offered another job with a rate more appropriate for my level of experience. However, I’m not particularly interested in leaving this job right now, so wanted to give you a chance to respond.” Thankfully my boss responded positively, saying she wanted to do what she could to keep me on board and got a higher salary approved for me, but I feel like I would have had to be prepared to walk away if she came back with “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”

    • H

      I would just caution that the problem with this technique can be that you’ve now shown your boss that you’re willing to go out and look for a new job, and that can seriously damage your relationship with her moving forward. Not to mention that a lot of the time when you’re fed up enough to find a new job, you have more problems with your current job than just the salary. That’s actually something that Allison talks a lot about in her blog, she recommends against taking counter offers. Not saying it doesn’t work, just giving the other side of the coin.

  • Steph S.

    I got the serious runaround and pass the buck whenever I brought up wanting a raise at my work. My boss would agree that he thought I deserved a promotion and raise, but would say it was out of his hands. He told the whole team that the head of our office, along with HR, determined our raises for this past year and never consulted him on it. Over the course of 8 years working at the company, I never received more than a 2% or 3% yearly raise – which I don’t even count as a real raise – that’s a pretty standard adjusting for inflation. I never played the gender card with them, but I was never shy about telling them that I felt I deserved a promotion and a raise and gave them concrete reasons why. Regardless, this year I got another measly 2% raise and so I quit. Byyyyyeeeeee.

    • Lisa

      Good on you! I was working at an awful non-profit for about a year and took on duties that were wildly outside of the scope of my job (office manager running an entire database conversion). When the non-profit decided to promote me/create a new position to work with the database and lead staff trainings, they asked me to research job duties and salary bands and put together a proposal. I suggested a salary band of $XXk as a minimum, based on my research and the COL in our area, and they countered with half of that salary, which was only a 2% raise from the office manager position. I was out of there within 3-4 months. I liked the work a lot, but I value my time and skills more.

      • Steph S.

        Ugh, I’m sorry you had to go through that. It sucks how common this is and how hard it is to prove it to your employer that it’s actually a thing. There are so many different ways they can dodge the issue or make excuses. I hope you have had luck in finding another job, still doing something you love, but being paid alot more for it now! You deserve the best and I’m glad you realize that.

        • Lisa

          Thank you for saying this. It’s really great to have that feeling reaffirmed by someone else! I’m location-bound while my husband finishes up his degree, but I did find a new job at the local university. The job itself is meh, but I negotiated myself a 25% raise from what I was making at the non-profit, which helps mitigate the meh-ness. I’m hoping to find something more in line with my interests when we relocate to (hopefully) a bigger city next year.

          And good luck to you with grad school! I hope it brings about the changes you want in your career.

      • LJ

        I worked for nonprofits for 3 years and now I work in a for-profit corporation. My pre-tax income has literally doubled despite my workload barely changing. The vast majorities of nonprofits treat their employees like crap because you’re “supposed to love your job so much that pay doesn’t matter as much”…… making less than $20/hr in one of the priciest cities in North America gets old fast. I’m a fan of volunteering for a good cause, but the exploitation of workers was ridiculous.

        • Lisa

          So, so true. And since women are more likely to go to careers in non-profit, these organizations are able to take advantage of the socialization of women to deferential. My organization was 90% women (3 men on staff), and any time someone discussed the possibility of a raise, she was shot down and told to be grateful for what she was given because the organization had so little funding, and weren’t we lucky to be working at a place with a great culture (ha) where everyone was family and cared about each other and the mission? I love that org and its mission, but that mission isn’t going to set me up for a decent retirement or allow me to live well until I can move on.

          I watched a TED talk about how the stigma attached to overhead expenditures in non-profits needs to be eliminated because otherwise it’s difficult to attract top talent that will generate more funding for the non-profit. Somehow in non-profits it seems to be ignored that you have to spend money sometimes to make more money.

    • Keeks

      I had almost exactly the same thing happen to me at my previous job – 3% COL raises disguised as merit raises. I figured if my manager wasn’t going to go to bat for me with HR, then he either wasn’t a good manager or I didn’t deserve a raise. When I brought it up at my exit interview with HR, she was shocked and pretty upset that my manager would put the responsibility on her. I guess he WAS a crappy manager after all.

      And now I get paid 25% more (which I totally negotiated) and I’m so much happier now. It feels a little like when you break up with someone and realize how much they were dragging you down.

      • Steph S.

        So here’s something interesting. I actually gave my notice of resignation a couple weeks ago and my last day is next week. Aside from being disappointed with my lack of promotion and the cheap raises – I got into graduate school. Part of what prompted my interest in grad school was wanting to switch career paths for a long time now and also wanting the chance at hopefully higher wages after getting a Master’s. What I’m getting at is, I haven’t had my exit interview. Our company has exit interviews with your boss, not HR. But we do have to fill out a form that gets submitted to HR. When I told my boss I was resigning, I did mention my disappointment with the way I was getting paid. Thanks for the tip on bringing it up to HR. I’m definitely going to write it on the exit interview paperwork that gets submitted to HR – that way they will have record of it in case my boss really has been BS’ing me the whole time.

    • raccooncity

      This reminds me of a job I had where we all had a meeting one day where they allowed us to give anonymous feedback. Someone (not me) said that salaries/pay was too low, esp when you consider that there were no benefits or paid sick leave. The managers were like “well, we don’t think it is, and no one else has ever told us that”

      So i pointed out that there was pretty high turnover. They were aghast, and asked what on earth i was referring to. I noted that in our small branch of about 10 employees, over half of them had left and been replaced since I started less than 2 years previous. Manager’s response was given without any irony at all:

      “well yes, but they all went to BETTER jobs so it doesn’t count as turnover”

      • Lisa

        At my last org, we had a turnover rate of 36% in the 13 months I worked there. Apparently one of my co-workers asked about turnover in her initial interview, and the HR woman told her that was a grossly inappropriate question and wouldn’t answer. That should have been a HUGE red flag there.

      • Keeks

        At my husband’s old job, SIX people left within 3 months – the common factor was that they all had recently worked with a toxic VP with anger management issues. When my husband mentioned this man being a reason he left, the CEO responded, “What, is it my job to make sure people are happy?” UH YES IT ACTUALLY IS YOUR JOB.

  • anon for this one

    So this post is TIMELY… mostly because I’m a little feeling like I failed in this recently. I went into my performance review not but a week ago *ready* to make a case for my promotion. I had a list of my accomplishments and the job description for where it fit. I never actually made the case though, because when going through my review my boss told me I was nominated for a promotion, and gave me an offer letter for the promotion. Now, here’s the thing, the raise was generous (9.3%) but it was a 2% increase for a cost of living, and 7.3% for the raise.

    My husband (who is one payband lower than me), was given a 9.XX% raise for his promotion back in like Oct time frame, and then will get a cost of living increase too.

    Basically, he and I started out at about the same time at the same company (similar job functions, but different departments), and while I’ve gotten a few hefty raises, he actually winds up getting more frequent though smaller pay bumps. The result is that his salary now is the same as mine, even though I am a payband above him. It’s not that I don’t think my husband works hard, or doesnt deserve the same pay as I do, he probably does. My issue is – is this gender inequality at play, or just timing of raises and compounding etc. Should I have brought this up with my boss and negotiated last week?

    • Eenie

      What kind of raise were you expecting from the promotion when you planned to ask for it? It’s so hard to know in these situations, because maybe the departments have different budgets that raises come out of or someone else in your department got a really good raise/promotion some years. If you feel like you’re not being fairly or accurately compensated, it’s worth brining up to your manager. They cannot do anything about the situation unless they know about it.

  • lindsay

    The gender issue I’m annoyed with now isn’t directly the pay gap like this – we use a pay guide benchmarked yearly, with everyone receiving a certain percentage of the amount for their position. For me, the pay gap issue is that we just hired someone vastly under-qualified for the same level position as me. I’m super annoyed that this white dude fresh out of college with a year of indirect experience is making the same amount as me. I was hired last year, have six years direct experience, a masters, and worked my ass off to get to the point where I can excel in this job. It’s frustrating that my six years experience is equal to his one year. I feel like it’s shit like this that creates the pay gap in the first place.

    • Kate

      I feel you! My younger sister has recently dated two guys in the film industry who had dropped out of college and then were offered schmancy jobs in LA because somebody got them a PA job on a film and some other white dude higher up in the company liked them and was like “Hey, I like you! If you’ll move to LA I’ll give you a 75k job!” My sister and I just marveled at the fact that had they been ladies or POC, they could’ve worked their asses off for a decade and not had that kind of opportunity. They’re nice guys and not bad at what they do, but jesus did it just fall into their white, privileged little laps.

    • CMT

      But that is totally still gendered. It took you six years and a masters to get to the same level the dude straight out of college is at.

      • lindsay

        I agree x100. My point is the pay gap can be a result of unequal hiring standards. So while my office has taken measures to make sure everyone in the same role has parity in pay, gender matters in who shows up in those roles.

        • CMT

          Oops, I totally misread your first sentence. Reading comprehension fail on my part.

    • Eh

      I have found that at my work they hire women who are overqualified for the job and men who barely meet the qualifications for the job. For example, I was hired for a contract job that was entry level that only required a bachelors degree and I have a masters degree and some work experience. At the same time (exact same interview process) a man with a bachelors degree and no work experience was hired for a permanent job at the same level. And another man with a masters degree and no work experience was hired for the level above me (entry level for that job is a masters degree or a lot of work experience). I got a promotion in less than a year but still spent 3.5 years contract hopping before getting permanent.

      • BSM

        “I have found that at my work they hire women who are overqualified for the job and men who barely meet the qualifications for the job.”

        That sounds about right, given that women are less likely to apply for jobs unless they meet 100% of the requirements, while men typically apply for ones where they only meet about 60%.


        • lindsay

          There’s a little solace in knowing that this guy wasn’t their first choice – they had about 4 or 5 other more qualified candidates drop out. But.. feelings don’t pay the bills.

  • Leah

    The best advice I’ve received on this topic is that “your biggest raise is usually your first one” — meaning you have the most leverage to negotiate when they make an offer, so don’t forget to use it!

    I think it’s really easy to feel so *grateful* that there’s a job offer on the table that we forget to even ask for what we want; and sometimes it really is as easy as asking!

    I used the “based on my new understanding of this role and the responsibilities involved, I’d really be more comfortable with $____” line and ended up with an offer $6k higher than their initial offer… All because of one line of conversation that felt a little awkward and would have been super easy to skip!

    Loved this whole post :)

  • Ashlah

    So my husband works for a small local business that has had some cash flow issues since he started working there. He has had to ask firmly and often to get any raises at all. He has received (very small) raises when no one else in the company has, simply because he’s gone to his managers and made the case for it. He has a female co-worker doing a very similar job to him, who has been there a lot longer. She does still make more money than him, but she has not received any raise at all for at least a couple years. I’ve been wondering if I should push him to let her know that he has been able to negotiate a raise so that she knows it’s a possibility. On the one hand, I hate to see a fellow woman not fight for the raises she deserves. On the other hand, money is tight in the company and he still makes way less than he should, so we selfishly don’t want to share what little is available, and she is still making a higher wage than him. Plus there’s always the potential of damaging his relationship with his bosses, reducing the chance of already rare future raises. What would you do, APW?

    • Eenie

      How does he know how much she makes and that she hasn’t gotten a raise? If it’s from talking with her directly, I’m not sure why he couldn’t also mention the fact that he talked his manager and got a raise for his work on projects x, y, and z. I personally wouldn’t come from the angle of telling her that it’s possible to get a raise if you lobby for it and she needs to start doing that (unless he was more of a mentor to her, but I doubt that since she makes more and has seniority).

  • Anon

    I realize the following is not the subject of this article at all, but I feel it is a workplace money issue that often effects women (and one I’m currently struggling with): at my job (which I really like and want to stay at) I’m classified as a temp, but here’s the thing – my job is not “temporary.” I’ve been there for over a year and plan to continue; my bosses say they’re thrilled with me and want me to continue there forever (it started as a 4 week part time temp assignment and morphed into a full time job.) Is it legal to keep a full time employee as a temp indefinitely? Isn’t temp supposed to mean “temporary”? It works for them, because they don’t have to pay me benefits obviously, but I’m wondering what if any options I have? I don’t have any firm statistics on this, but I know a lot of women who work as temps, and I think temp employees have the greatest opacity on what we’re paid.

    • BSM

      In what capacity are you a temp? Directly with the company or through an agency?

      • ruth

        Directly through the company, never with an agency

        • BSM

          I agree with Chop – the legality of it varies from state to state. I would have a serious discussion with your supervisor and, if they’re not open to bringing you on as a salaried employee with benefits, look elsewhere.

          • ruth

            Thanks for this info, Chop. Do you know of resources online that show the legality of this by state? I’m in NY – I’ve been googling, but can’t find anything definitive

    • Chop

      I believe it varies state to state. In NC you can’t be “temp” for longer than 24 consecutive months. We have a lot of this where I work and it’s a terrible way to do business

  • CommaChick

    I’ve been in my field for about five years now, and I’ve never had a man on my team. I’ve worked with men; there have been men in my department, but there have never been any men on any of my teams doing what I do. It’s definitely a gendered issue. I’m in a female-dominated branch of a male-dominated field. My teammates and I make a lot less than the men, but we also do different work that is less valued by society than the work that our male counterparts do. On the plus side, it’s great to work with so many awesome women. However, it makes me think about the history of how certain fields becomes less valued when women become more prevalent in them. It’s a more subtle, systemic issue form of gender wage discrimination.

  • Amy A.

    I was recently laid off and after four weeks on the market landed a new job with a 20% raise. I knew I was undercompensated at my previous employer, but I never knew precisely how much until I was forced to job hunt. Part of the pay gap is my fault; despite negotiating the initial offer I only asked for raises every other year and when managers recommended against giving me a raise (due to their budgetary concerns, not my performance) I backed down rather than stand up for myself. However, one of the things I didn’t realize was holding me back until I left was internal power structures. Specifically, my assigned internal professional development coach was also the associate HR director, and probably not inclined to go to bat for me on issues of salary with her boss, the head of HR for our group and the guy who approves or rejects raises. Compared to my peers who had other coaches (particularly those whose coaches were company leaders and presumably had less reason to defer to the head of HR) I definitely fared worse.

    TL;DR- be your own advocate, but it doesn’t hurt to get a powerful advocate in your corner when it comes to negotiating your salary.

    • BSM

      My company somewhat purposefully pays people below market rates (don’t even get me started on how fucked up that is) and is considering a round of layoffs next month, so I just accepted a position at a new company for a 25% raise. I also had some similar weirdness with the org/power structures because I reported directly to the CEO, the person who has the final say on all promotions/raises.

      Congrats on your new job! It feels great to be appropriately compensated!

      • Amy A.

        My former employer also paid people below the market rate for the area, but when confronted with that their argument would have been as follows: 1) We’re an employee-owned company, so every year you get a dividend on your stock, plus if there’s profit left over at the end of the year it is all returned to the employees. This meant people counted on receiving a year-end bonus as part of their compensation (so, not really a “bonus”? Though your personal cut could be increased by being recognized for outstanding performance and/or working on lucrative projects, but I digress) 2) We have “highly competitive” benefits. 3) We’ve been recognized as a “Best Place to Work” in our industry.
        Knowing what I know now about compensation, if I could respond I’d say 1) My bonus + dividend did not even come CLOSE to making up the gap between my salary and the going rate for someone with my comparable education and years of experience (think $5k gap, compounded by the number of years I worked there and . . . yeah, it hurts). 2) Eh, I never had any problems with your benefits, but the ones we get from my husband’s employer are at least as good, and he is with local government. 3) Yeah, largely on the strength of things that are available to everyone (flex time, comp time, flat organizational structure, company culture, etc.) and are not related to compensation or performance, sooooo, what does that have to do with my salary?
        Thanks! It does indeed feel good :-D

  • Julia

    Wanted to share some perspective from the manager’s point of view, hope this insight helps people when negotiating!

    I am a woman with about 8 people on my team who are all doing more or less the same job, but they are paid very different salaries, as much as 50% differential. The salary differences have NOTHING to do with gender, and everything to do with the initial negotiations during the job offer.

    The hiring process goes like this: I need to hire a person to do X job. I go to my CFO / CEO and get approval for this hire with a maximum budget (e.g. you can hire 1 person to do X job, and you can pay them up to $$$$). Then I start interviewing people, and my objective is just to find the most qualified person in the shortest time possible.

    There is no such thing as two completely equal candidates. Everyone is different — this person has more years of experience but that one has a particular skill set which would be useful. This other person has good contacts in the industry. That person doesn’t have much background and would need a lot of training, but they did an amazing job in the interview and are clearly extremely detail-oriented and motivated.

    Once we find a candidate who we think would be a good fit, we ask them what their previous salary was and what their salary expectations are. This moment is crucial — it’s where almost all of the salary differences come from. The people who are currently paid less on my team are paid less because they asked for less. It’s just that simple.

    My #1 piece of advice here would be research very carefully what the market rate is for this role. Use glassdoor.com, payscale.com, indeed.com. Talk to other people in the industry. If you know that your current compensation is on par with the industry, then you can share that and ask for 10 – 30% more in your new job. If you are changing industries or roles, then don’t share your current comp. Instead you can say something like “well, I’m not sure my current comp is relevant because I’m changing industries or roles, so I’m not sure what the appropriate salary range is. Can you make me an offer?”.

    Once hired, it becomes much harder to change your comp. Telling me that you want a raise because you are paid less than your colleague is not going to be a very convincing argument. The best chance you have to get a substantial raise after you are hired is by doing a really, really good job and making yourself indispensable to the team. If I feel like I cannot replace you, then I will proactively give you a big raise to keep you because I know that recruiters are going to start spamming you and trying to poach you.

    • CMT

      Asking people what they made at previous jobs instead of telling them what your range is perpetuates this problem. You know what your range is, just tell people.

      • Julia

        I understand what you are saying, but as a hiring manager it simply does not make sense for me to do that. It’s hard enough to find someone who is qualified, a good fit for the role, and who is honestly excited to join our company. If this person is relatively young and inexperienced and would be happy with a lower salary, it makes no sense for me to pay them more just because someone else with the same title gets paid more. On the other hand, if I have a great candidate I really want to hire and I need to pay them more in order to get them to accept the offer, I can’t afford to then raise everyone else’s salary as well.

        I’m all for closing the gender gap between men and women, between people of different races, etc. Those factors simply have nothing to do with your ability to do the job. And that’s why I think it’s so important for job candidates to educate themselves and to negotiate. It’s also important for hiring managers to reflect on their own subconscious biases, and make sure they are really excluding irrelevant factors like gender when making hiring and promotion decisions.

        However, I actually DON’T think that everyone with the same title at the same company should be paid the same. That’s not necessarily fair.

        • Lisa

          I agree that people with the same job title don’t have to be paid exactly the same amount as each other for all of the reasons you mentioned; however, you’re really not looking out for your employees’ best interests when doing your salary negotiations and are helping to perpetuate a cycle that disadvantages people who have less experience and have been socialized to defer to people in power.

          You know what your salary band is. You know what you’d be willing to offer different candidates for their particular skill sets. Tell them that number and see where it gets you. If you want that “relatively young and inexperienced” person who “would be happy with a lower salary” to stay with your company for an extended period of time, then do right by them from the beginning by making sure they’re being paid what you would consider a fair wage and not allowing them to low-ball themselves. If you don’t protect their interests from the beginning and demonstrate to them that you value you them from the onset, eventually they’ll realize what they’ve gotten themselves into and will move on to another company that will treat them better.

          • Julia

            Hmm. My original intention in writing my first comment was just to share what this whole negotiation looks like from the other side of the table, as I believe that the more you know the better you can advocate for yourself. I find it hilarious that I’m being accused of “perpetuating the cycle”, as I am not only a woman myself but consider myself a staunch feminist, and an active mentor in my industry to help younger women build up their careers.

            Again, I know there are workplaces that explicitly discriminate against women (or minorities, etc.) and obviously that is something we need to fight against. But frankly speaking, the reality is that employees WILL have to advocate on their own behalf when it comes to salary. All employees, both men and women. For all the reasons I went into above, most companies are not going to tell you their salary range or make you an offer first. That’s why it’s so important to understand how employers think and to understand the market rates, so that you can be the best possible advocate for yourself.

            Here’s a more detailed look at how this “pay differential” for the same position works. A year ago I hired two people at around the same time for the same job title. One was fresh out of college with only internship experience, but seemed really smart and hard-working and had great potential. The other person already had 2.5 years of relevant experience.

            Obviously, the experienced person was paid a higher salary, partly because I had to spend a lot more time training the new graduate, but also because they asked for a higher salary and I knew they wouldn’t accept the same salary as the new grad. I think it’s totally fair that the new grad was paid less, because they were getting the benefit of training and a “foot in the door” into the industry.

            Fast forward one year – the new graduate has done exceptionally well, contributed far above expectations, and just got a 25% raise and a promotion. Of course I wanted to reward them for a job well done, but I also wanted to make sure they stayed with the company as I knew that recruiters had already been reaching out to this person. The other hire has also done pretty well, but only got a small cost of living increase because frankly there was no budget for two raises. Their salaries are now almost the same.

            That’s an example of what I believe to fairly paying two people different salaries for doing the same job. The fact that in this case, the new graduate happened to be a woman and the experienced hire happened to be a man is totally irrelevant.

          • guest

            Totally agree with this point. I have lived a similar example as well. Salary negotiations are a balance of many factors, not just gender.

          • Laura

            Thank you for sharing your viewpoint, and I’m sorry that you’re feeling accused. Just to clarify, I don’t think anyone disagrees with the idea that there are valid reasons to pay different salaries, such as prior experience. However, *experience* is different from *previous salary*. People are saying that you should pay however much you feel someone with X amount of experience or Y qualifications ought to earn, and leave previous salary out of it (as previous salary *can* be impacted by things like not negotiating aggressively or not asking for raises).

    • guest

      I have also followed a very similar hiring strategy for my team to great success. However, for me, there are more steps than you are outlining. I agree with the hiring strategy. In addition to that, annually as part of a review process, a manager must evaluate an employee’s actions that year, growth potential, and flight risk. A manager should also allocate funds (the raise pool, if you will) for merit-based promotions, market-based salary adjustments, and a more general 2-3% raise pool. Personally, if I knew an employee was underpaid based on the market, they performed well, and I can prove there would be an impact if they quit, I would award a market-based adjustment. Keeping employees within the same salary grade helps to build trust on both sides. If budget funds were tight, I would find other ways to motivate (give a gift certificate, unrecorded PTO days, an email to the group about their impact, etc).

    • BSM

      “Once we find a candidate who we think would be a good fit, we ask them what their previous salary was and what their salary expectations are. This moment is crucial — it’s where almost all of the salary differences come from. The people who are currently paid less on my team are paid less because they asked for less. It’s just that simple.”

      This seems… really messed up. Companies should endeavor to pay people what they’re worth, not get the best deal they can from people who ask for less.

    • Serious question: why is their previous salary factored into your salary decision, or even any of your company’s business? Not trying to be snarky, this is a sticking point with me in job hunting. Salaries should be based on market rate for the skill set and what the company can afford to pay in the position. Looking at a candidate’s past salary history only perpetuates pay gaps and keeps those who have been undercompensated in that situation. If the person has the skills and you have the budget, why not just pay what they want? Why factor their previous salary in at all?

      • Julia

        Appreciate the question. The honest answer is that people are very anchored to their previous salaries when looking for new jobs. The vast majority of people are going to be extremely reluctant to take a new job that pays less than their new job, unless they are already mentally prepared to do that because they are changing industries or moving to a much lower cost of living area. If I know your previous salary is higher than my max budget, then I’m unlikely to waste time making you an offer because more than 9 times out of 10 you’ll reject it anyways.

        But I think your question is more on the other side of the spectrum — if someone was previously earning far less than the salary range for this job, and I think they have the skills / qualifications to do the job, then why not pay them a higher salary? The most direct answer is just that people tend to be happy with a 10 – 20% increase from their previous job, and that companies are in the business of maximizing profit. I get that this results in lower-paid people continuing to be lower-paid.

        However, the free market also cuts both ways. If I know I have an amazing employee (as in the example above), then I need to give them a raise before some other company steals them away at a higher wage. With a candidate though (not an employee), there’s still a good amount of uncertainty about how they will ultimately perform.

  • Constance

    Thank you so much for this post. The point about money conversations as a tabu is crucial in my opinion. For some time now I’ve been making a point of overturning this in my own discourse.

  • Rhie

    Public sector employee here. On the one hand it’s great from the perspective of the gender gap because below a certain level of seniority, there’s no such thing as negotiating, you get the salary the legislature has determined goes with your level position (at least in my state/agency) whether you’re male, female, have a masters or bachelors, black, white, whatever. But you’re also beholden to the legislature for your cost of living adjustments and the ability of your department to give raises, and I think at last count, state employees in my state hadn’t had a COLA in 8 years. EIGHT YEARS. I’ve been working in my agency for almost 4 years and I love it (the work, the people, etc.) but damn. We’ve been asking for funding for a career ladder since 2014 and we still haven’t gotten it. So yeah.

  • Eh

    My cousin works for Canada Post (as a rural mail carrier) and the pay discrepancy between urban (mostly male) and rural (mostly female) mail carriers has been in the news a lot. Rural mail carriers get paid about a third less (and they have to use their own vehicles) and they don’t get paid for breaks (unlike the urban mail carriers). Canada Post has said that paying them the same will cost too much. I know I am simplifying the situation but it’s outrageous.

    My work (non-unionized) doesn’t allow salary negotiations (Directors and up can negotiate). We do have annual performance ratings however most of the people get the same rating, but if you are a high performer you will get rewarded for it (either through a higher raise or a bonus).

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  • Crayfish Kate

    So, chiming in to say I’m pretty dang proud of myself. Just started a new higher position at my company & I successfully negotiated my salary for the first time ever. And no one died! I’ve never been salary before & it was a huge learning experience, to say the least. Alison’s advice is great & I combed over her archives in preparation. Couple points/tips/things I learned…

    1. Trying to find company salary information is HARD. Everyone says to research salaries for comparable jobs in your region & field, but I came up dry. I searched salary.com, glassdoor.com, etc, & yielded info that was not helpful. Looked at job postings for other companies & my own, & of course no salary info was given, not even a pay grade. So I straight-up asked a person who had the same position I was offered. I asked if he’d be comfortable giving me a range he thought was appropriate, no worries if not. He told me what he was offered, which was exactly the info I was looking for! It made me a bit uncomfortable asking, but then I realized if companies were more transparent, I wouldn’t have had to flat-out ask in the first place.

    2. Know what you’re dealing with (in terms of salary)! I really wish I’d thought about this one more, my negotiation almost blew up in my face because of it. I’m a minority and a woman, so I was on red alert for any signs of a lowball offer. The initial offer was of course much lower than I’d expected/hoped, hence why I ended up talking to the colleague mentioned above. He was offered a bit more than me, but he’d also had 5 more years of experience at the company. I was relieved to know I wasn’t being lowballed. The other thing lurking in the back of my mind was that our company is kind of known for underpaying everyone. Like by a lot. They counter this by having a good benefits package & quarterly bonuses, etc. I still went in & asked for 12% more than they offered – turns out that was outrageous & I could hear the surprise in the HR guy’s voice. WHOOPS. Point is, I wasn’t being lowballed – the company is just cheap overall. If I’d kept this in mind, I probably wouldn’t have looked like such an idiot (and thankfully they still offered me the job, and a bit more than the initial offer).

    3. The fastest/easiest way to get a big raise is to change jobs & negotiate. I didn’t want to change companies, but a higher position offered a big jump in pay grades & a chance to negotiate for more. If I’d stayed in the old position, I never would be able to make the same amount in yearly raises, ever.

    4. Yet another strong reason to negotiate – your 401(k)/Retirement savings! What I learned recently (this makes perfect sense, but never occurred to me), is that women tend to doubly screw themselves over. They don’t negotiate as much, so overall they make less, which means less to go into retirement savings compared to men. In addition, women tend to live longer than men, so will end up needing MORE money in retirement savings than men! Yikes! Negotiate for more money, your future self will be grateful.

    Some of you probably already knew all that but it was all eye-opening to me. Knowledge is power & all that. :-D