The idea of discovering a peer earns more for the same performance might be enough to make anyone shudder. For millions of women in the workforce, the gender pay gap isn’t a theoretical concept. Instead, it is an everyday reality.
Nancy Scott, director of leadership development programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, is an organizational psychologist who studies workplace behavior.
“Unequal pay is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed on a large scale,” Scott says. “Women need to know their worth and be ready to justify it. Managers need to understand the importance of fairness.”
Here, Scott offers five pieces of advice for women affected by the gender pay gap:
What are some methods for a person to overcome feeling stuck because of a pay gap?
Utilize your support system in preparing to address the issue with your manager or human resources department. These are important conversations to have, and knowing that you are not alone can help you gain confidence to bring to light your feelings of inequity with your manager or HR.
How do you advise handling negative feelings that could harm your negotiating position?
These negative feelings are very real and show passion, so use your emotions to make preparation personal. You don’t want those negative emotions to spread, though, so harness them in a constructive way. Ultimately, the conversation with your manager or HR needs to be about your performance and impact, not solely your feelings. Also, you’ll need to be emotionally prepared to maintain professionalism and focus on justifying your negotiation position.
If a woman affected by the gender pay gap decides to approach HR or her manager, what is a good strategy?
Preparation is key, because bringing up pay inequity will be a difficult conversation. To the best of your ability, gather information on what your colleagues are making and research similar roles industry-wide. Set a salary target, go into the conversation with confidence and focus on performance. The purpose of the conversation shouldn’t be to throw your male colleague under the bus. It should be to highlight what you do. As employees, we often know more about our work and accomplishments than do our managers. Remember that your manager isn’t an adversary, but a joint problem-solver interested in keeping motivated employees. Be open about your interests to enhance your chances of obtaining a win-win solution.
Salary negotiations often take time. How can women play the long game?
Use the conversation with your manager or HR as a chance to gather salary and performance information. If you don’t see an increase in your salary, then you’ll be armed with information for the next negotiation conversation. Understand your true interest in the negotiation: are you aiming to feel both fairly compensated and appreciated? You can use this interest to identify other things you may value, especially if there isn’t flexibility in your salary. You may want a valued assignment, developmental opportunities or a flexible schedule. Other options might exist for your employer to set goals and remedy the salary discrepancy over time. Hopefully, the organization is committed and has a long-term plan for fixing pay discrepancies.
If, ultimately, a woman feels her employer is unreceptive, how can she make sure the pay gap does not follow her into the next step of her career?
Do company research, as well as salary research, before negotiating a new offer. Ask lots of questions before taking the position to get a feel for the organization’s pay policies. You’ll want to have some understanding of how pay decisions are made. Unequal pay is prevalent, so asking questions and seeking out females in leadership roles may help you to avoid employers who are not focused on addressing pay inequity.