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How to Tackle Your Gender Wage Gap

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This year, Equal Pay Day falls on April 9. The date symbolically marks the number of extra days, on average, women would have to work in 2013 to earn as much as men did in 2012.

Think about that when your alarm clock rings tomorrow. The same amount!

The U.S. Census Bureau has yet to release data for 2012. Its data for 2011 shows that for every dollar a man earns working full-time, a woman working fulltime earns 77 cents. The disparity exists across virtually all occupations −- women earn less than men of comparable education, experience and seniority. From the moment a woman throws her graduation cap into the air to the moment she retires, she earns less than a similarly-situated man.

In 2011, the median annual earnings for women working full-time, year-round were $37,118. The comparable amount for men was $48,202. That $11,084 differential significantly affects the quality of life of women and their families. That amount is the equivalent of 92 weeks of groceries or 13 months of rent in many locations.

As dramatic as the annual difference is, the gap becomes a gaping chasm over a 40-year career. The lifetime wage gap for a woman with a high school diploma is $392,000 on average. The gap increases to $452,000 for women with some college. Women with a bachelor's degree typically lose a staggering $713,000 over their working lives.

Although this analysis measures the gap by looking at broad education levels, the trend is the same when specific occupations are considered. The more education that is required for a particular job, the greater the gap.

The disparities are unfair to the point of being immoral. Worse, the ratio of 77 to 100 was the same for every year since 2002 with the exception of 2003, when it dropped to 76 to 100 and 2007 when it surged to 78 to 100.

Federal law prohibits pay distinctions between men and women but has loopholes big enough to march a battalion of advantaged men through. The government isn't going to level the playing field for women. What can you for yourself?

Learn how to negotiate for better pay.

Don't let the word "negotiate" scare you. Think of it as a dialogue with your boss. It isn't a confrontation -- it's a conversation. Here's how to do it:

1. Start by doing your homework. Find out what salaries employees with similar skills and responsibilities are receiving in your industry and geographic area.

2. Ask for an appointment with your boss to discuss "expectations." This isn't a conversation to have on-the-fly.

3. If you're ready to stop reading because the prospect of a negotiation seems too daunting, I'm going to make it easy on you. Watch this marvelous, career-transforming Ted Talk by Harvard B-school professor Amy Cuddy. Yes, it's twenty minutes long, and you could use that time to polish your resume if you'd rather change jobs than work up the courage to ask for a raise. Sacrifice whatever it takes to watch this video. Everything she says makes sense, and when you get to the sixteenth minute Professor Cuddy shares a personal experience that will totally win you over to her approach. I promise her talk will make you a better advocate for yourself.

4. Practice what you're going to say. Get your opening lines down pat. Memorize them. You'll be most nervous at the beginning of the conversation and knowing your lines will reduce the stress.

5. Start on a positive note. "I've enjoyed working with you."

6. Your pitch should center on what your employer's priorities are and how you have helped achieve them. Have you brought in new clients? Enhanced the company's reputation? Provided above and beyond customer service? If you've taken on additional responsibilities, mention them.

7. Assume you will succeed to bolster your confidence. And remember the man in the next cubicle performing the same job with the same training and experience is probably earning thirty percent more than