• Kara Sammet

Women in Tech: Three Ways to Fight for Equal Pay Today

Recent survey data of over 10,000 tech employees show that young women entering tech have a staggering 29% wage gap across all jobs compared with similarly aged men. That’s not a gap, it’s a crevasse! Yet here we are at Equal Pay Day, with politicians still arguing that equal pay is “bad for society” and that it creates problematic competition for “men’s jobs.”

Equal Pay Day represents the point in the year when women’s pay, on average, catches up to men’s pay from the previous year. The actual amount of the gap depends on a variety of factors, including race, job type, industry and experience. Yet no matter how you look at the data, the gender pay gap is real. The gap is also significantly worse for Black women, Latinas and other women of color. Women can’t even educate themselves out of the gap, because wage disparity grows for women with higher levels of education. Over the first twenty years of their careers, female MBAs earn $400,000 less than their male counterparts.

The impact of the pay gap is so profound on the quality of life for working women and their families, that Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization has launched a #20PercentCounts campaign to raise awareness and encourage action. So what can you do about the gender wage gap, besides using the 20% discount offered by the 300 businesses taking part in the Lean In campaign?

Whether you are on the job market or staying put for now, here are three practical steps that you can take to fight for equal pay, reduce your wage gap and boost your salary.

Resist Revealing Your Salary History

Prospective employers like to ask, “What is your current salary?” This gives them an advantage in negotiating a job candidate’s salary and allows them to offer you less money. This results in a cycle of pay discrimination with a cumulative impact that can follow a woman from her first job through an entire career. So successfully resisting sharing your salary with a prospective employer likely has short and long term effects.

How big are the effects? According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP for People Operations and author of Work Rules, new female employees who joined Google in 2015 experienced an average 30% salary increase compared to new male hires. Bock believes employers can end the gender wage gap in a decade by correcting for women’s wages with every hire and promotion. It’s also important to target pay for what a job is worth, rather than basing it on a candidate’s previous pay.

So, when a prospective employer asks for your salary history, one of the best things you can do for yourself is decline to share. Even with practice, this can be difficult to do, but you’ll be glad you did.

If you work for a company with a strong women’s Employee Resource Group, ask them to lobby HR to stop asking job candidates for their salary history.

Learn to Negotiate Effectively

It’s not always possible to avoid sharing your salary, so it’s essential that you develop strong negotiation skills.

Cultivate your confidence and competence in negotiation just like any other technical skill you’ve developed to prepare yourself as a competitive job candidate. Get better at negotiating by reading up on best practices for women in the workplace, practicing, and then repeatedly applying those to your own situation. Want someone to support you through the process? Consider hiring a salary negotiation coach.

Agitate Strategically for Transparency

Wage transparency helps employees fight for equal pay. In the end, transparency helps employers, too, because employees who believe they are fairly compensated are more engaged and productive. Laws giving employees the right to share pay information and prohibiting employer retaliation are critical for creating wage transparency. But real transparency across organizations requires buy-in from the top. Intel’s leadership supported a gender wage pay audit in 2016 and is now auditing its racial pay. Startup Buffer goes further, making its employees’ salaries and pay formula public.

You can encourage wage transparency locally by encouraging coworkers to share their salaries. You can also contribute your salary and bonus information to the Fairygodboss database, a job and company review site by and for women that crowdsources information on compensation. This database not only promotes transparency and fairness, it also helps women make informed career choices.

A great handbook for agitating strategically about transparency and other equity issues in the workplace is Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Chapter three — which highlights perils and tactics for “speaking while female and the double jeopardy of double minorities”- is even free to download. Although many of us would rather speak out with no-holds-barred about what employers need to do to change their practices, that’s not always practical. Grant’s insights can help maximize your potential to successfully champion change internally.

Grant argues that ideas that challenge the status quo — like equal pay — may get more traction if masked, like a Trojan Horse, to appeal to mainstream audiences. Salesforce, for example, gained leverage for a fair pay audit on behalf of women by framing the audit as a tool to promote fair wages for everyone. Whether or not this Trojan Horse approach was intentional, it worked.

By some estimates, the global gender pay gap will take 170 years to close. Yet tech industry leaders illustrate that wage equality is possible in our lifetimes. The strategic effort and energy that women and male allies must exert to bring about equity to this one aspect of tech can be frustrating and annoying, no doubt. But fighting for equal pay requires nothing less than rigorous self-advocacy for the fair salary that you deserve. Don’t leave anything on the table!

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