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By most measures, working women and men aren’t paid equally.
The Census Bureau estimated in 2019 that women earned about 82 cents for every dollar that a man was paid. For women of color, that picture looks even worse. Black women earned 62 cents on the dollar, while Hispanic women earned just 54 cents per every $1 men made, the Census Bureau found.
The gender pay gap: A stubborn, persistent problem
Despite decades of meaningful progress in closing gender pay disparities, women in 2019 earned about 82 cents per every $1 men earned.
A gap, albeit a smaller one, also pervades among women and men who work similar jobs and share the same skill sets and qualifications, according to research from salary and compensation data firm PayScale.
While the gender pay gap has shown marked improvement over the last several decades, it’s a stubborn problem weighing on women’s wallets. It can also end up being costly, setting women back in their goals to save and invest. And it takes an emotional toll that statistics can’t encapsulate. Women dealing with the gender pay gap cite playing a constant game of catch-up with male counterparts.
“I had to labor throughout my career for pay equality,” says April Stewart, a financial educator and money coach, one of eight women who shared their experiences with Bankrate. “I’ve gleaned tidbits of information from male colleagues and realized that my pay was lower than theirs. We had similar skill sets, mine often greater, and they sometimes were younger. I was Ivy League educated with a master’s degree, but I also was a Black woman. Over time, it has caused stress and burnout. It just gets tiring.”
Here’s how you can navigate the gender pay gap and still meet your financial goals, according to women who’ve made progress dealing with pay disparities in their own professional lives.
1. Do as much research as possible – and don’t be afraid to chat with colleagues about what they’re making and how they’ve navigated the issue
It’s easy to feel resigned by longer-run challenges in the workforce, with the gender pay gap at the top of the list. Yet, women are in no way resigned to the issue.
“Focus on the things that you really can control,” says Cady North, founder and CEO of North Financial Advisors, which specializes in helping women meet their financial goals. “When it comes to negotiating to try to get out of the pay gap, getting as much information as possible is extremely important.”
To know if you’re really paid up to scale, start looking into specific salary data for workers with your educational level and experience who also have a job within your industry and geographical location. Stewart utilizes online platforms such as Glassdoor.com to also research salary histories within her own company.
“It’s a starting point in knowing how much I want to ask for,” Stewart says. “It helps to be led by fact, rather than emotion in these situations.”
While that includes online research, you should also consider speaking with other professionals in your industry and your coworkers to see salary ranges. Your female-identifying colleagues might also have some tips to share of their own.
“If you can, ask what others in your company have done when they negotiated, especially what works and what doesn’t with the person you’ll be speaking with,” says Zoe Waters, CEO and founder of social justice communications platform Necessary Behavior.
Ellen Ensher, professor of management at Loyola Marymount University, wouldn’t have realized her colleagues made more money than her if she hadn’t broached the subject over margaritas.
“I had to go back to my client, who was also my friend and mentor, and ask for more money. She said, ‘I had my manager hat on when I paid you, not my mentor hat. Now that you have asked, yes, I can double your rate from $50 to $100 an hour,’” Ensher says. “It was agonizing deciding to wait because, of course, my first assumption was that I was not good enough, not that I did not ask.”
2. Don’t divulge your earning history with recruiters or hiring managers
But the same advice about being open doesn’t always apply, especially when it comes to recruiters and hiring managers.
If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, you might remember instances of a recruiter asking you about your salary expectations or earnings history. While experts say this is most of the time a way for recruiters to learn more about you, it might end up perpetuating the cycle.
Avoid answering the question and instead tell the recruiter you’d like to learn a bit more about the role. You could even offer a tight salary window, somewhere in the range of $5,000 and $10,000, of what you’re expecting to be paid based on the research you’ve done for the role.
3. Don’t be afraid to job hop
While it’s not uncommon for workers to get a raise every year, most of the time these prove to be fairly minimal unless they’re paired with a promotion. Research suggests that workers see the most significant pay gains when they switch jobs.
For Coleen Otero, founder of CEO Chick, the gender pay gap was what inspired her to start a business.
“I am a firm believer that freedom is something we have to give ourselves,” she says. “Entrepreneurship is key to accelerating the pace of change for gender parity. It puts the power in our hands. Women need to continue owning and operating our own businesses. When we build the table, we can guarantee we will have a seat.”
4. Always ask for more
Negotiating is going to be your most powerful tool. Recruiters and hiring managers expect it, and it’s the quickest way to ensure you start earning more right away.
“I had a man in my 20s tell me that every time you switch jobs, you should always ask for a 20 percent raise,” North says. “That was extremely instrumental for me because it really gave me permission to ask for more than I probably would have. The idea that we have to negotiate is really something we have to get used to.”
Another way of looking at it: You won’t get what you don’t ask for, Otero says. Before operating her business full-time, Otero was training women for management positions with a male-owned salon franchise. One by one, she had watched the women she’d trained receive the promotions she had always wanted — until finally, she put her foot down and requested a meeting to discuss how she could move up.
“The next year, I was made a district manager overseeing six locations and 45 to 60 employees,” she says. “The moral of the story is, ask for what you want. If you don’t get it, create it. In the words of Beyoncé, I haven’t seen a ceiling in my whole life.”
5. Get comfortable with negotiating by practicing
But negotiating isn’t exactly a comfortable process. Practice makes perfect. Consider looking in the mirror and planning out what you’re going to say when the time to ask for more money comes.
Waters has found particular success by roping her friends in on her goals and seeking out training sessions on YouTube or LinkedIn Learning.
“If you can nail it with friends, you can nail it in front of the person you have to make your case to,” Waters says. “Know your worth and value but also know [at] what price you’d walk, too. If you cannot get what you need to live comfortably, find another space to work. You can always try again if you feel you haven’t done well.”
6. Come to the table with ways to demonstrate what you are worth
During any type of review, come to the table with concrete, tangible examples of how you contributed to your company’s top-line growth and use it as a reason for why you should be paid more.
“I was successful in getting what I asked for, or as close to it as possible, because I had the performance to back it up,” Stewart says. “It was evident by the fact that I continued to receive more responsibility and elevate my position within the organization. That comes with a cost, and I wasn’t willing to assume more responsibility for free.”
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for more reviews
Even if the negotiation doesn’t yield the results you like right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful down the road.
Consider asking your manager for more frequent review sessions, perhaps on a regular 90-day or six-month rhythm. You’ll not only learn of ways you can keep improving but have more opportunities to set up the next big “ask,” says Ivette Mayo, founder and CEO of Power On Heels Fund, a nonprofit that assists women of color in defeating pay disparities.
“This confident approach also shows off your skills and determination to get things done,” she says. “Remember, you deserve the raise and you have earned it.”
8. Have an open dialogue about the domestic work burden that befalls many women
Experts say there’s no reason, discriminatory or nondiscriminatory, for the gender pay gap. But the responsibility of child care that befalls many women can often have a profound impact on one’s pay over time, with some mothers working fewer hours or dropping out of the labor force altogether to care for children.
Census Bureau earnings data only backs up that point. Just one slice of the picture, single mothers who earn less than $30,000 a year make up 51 percent of all single mothers, while single fathers in the same income category make up just 29 percent of their cohort.
For Whitney Casares, MD, author of “The Working Mom Blueprint,” balancing motherhood with a career in medicine has been a game of tug-of-war. She says gender norms threaten to hold her back from her maximum potential when she wants to “lean in fully” to her professional career.
“I took unpaid maternity leaves after the birth of both of my daughters and, with each, I found myself in debt and at a disadvantage to my male partners when it came to promotions, productivity bonuses, and lost wages,” she says. “Even when I was no longer a new parent, I was almost always the default one for a long time. If one of my kids was sick, I left early to cover child care. When there was a family crisis, I was usually the one to step in. All of those sacrifices, determined solely by my gender, have persistently contributed to the pay gap between me and my male partners.”
Casares says setting boundaries at both work and home were what made most of the difference. That includes dividing responsibilities with her partner, such as who stays home from work to care for a sick child or handle an emergency, while also vocalizing with her colleagues that she’s a working mother.
“The more women and men talk freely about their dual identities as parents and employees, the less heavily the burden falls to moms when home and work life collide,” she says.
9. Prioritize saving and investing – but make sure you still have an emergency fund
Women might feel more pressure to invest knowing they could be earning less than their male counterparts, though it shouldn’t come before having a cushion of cash to cover your expenses in case of an emergency or job loss.
“The more you can invest, the more you’re going to get ahead of the game because investing buys you options [to do things like] taking a sabbatical in 10 years or switching to a part-time consulting gig 10 years before retirement,” North says. “But investing doesn’t start until you have a solid financial foundation.”
10. Stick to a personal financial plan
Meanwhile, confidence with your own personal finances might permeate into your professional life, Stewart says. If you get to a point where you feel comfortable with money, you might end up feeling braver to talk about it with a recruiter or manager.
“It’s helpful for people, especially women, to make sure that finances are part of their life,” says Chantel Bonneau Stewart, CFP, wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual. “It’s like your health, your fitness goals and your mental health – all of those things you want to be consistently checking in on, and you want to have a good pulse and relationship on how those things work in your life.”
11. Never blame yourself for the gender pay gap
And above all, those who’ve confronted the gender pay gap in their own lives know it’s important to realize that this stubborn problem has nothing to do with you and the value that you bring to the company.
“Antiqued mindset[s] and falsely based bias[es] continue to feed the gender pay gap beast; it is not your fault,” Mayo says. “If there is one thing I learned in my career as a woman, it is that no one will be a more honest, helpful advocate for me than me. The gender pay gap is real and exists all over the world. I needed to become my biggest advocate. Learning this and becoming my biggest promoter made me more effective in securing the salary that I needed to support my family and future goals. This also kept me motivated and built my confidence.”