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A Woman's Worth: Asking For a Raise From Beginning to End

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This week, between the new Lean In book coming out April 8th and Obama requiring higher compensation transparency with federal contractors, the gender gap is on everyone's mind. And so, while much has been researched and written over the years about America's gender pay gap, I want to instead discuss how you can act if you learn that you are, in fact, being paid less than your male colleague at work.

First, you start with data gathering: How do you know if you are not being paid equally?

1. Ask your colleagues or former colleagues.
Higher transparency allows individuals to have a better understanding of their company's compensation philosophy, and therefore their own pay. An important bill that would have assisted women in proving pay disparity just failed in the Senate. Among other things, the Paycheck Fairness Act would have prohibited employers from retaliating against even supervisory employees who discuss or disclose wages of co-workers. It also would have made it easier for employees to prove pay disparity.

If your colleagues can't or won't discuss their wages, maybe a former colleague will. If you have a good relationship with a former male co-worker, ask him for details about his salary, benefits package, promotion history, etc. If they earned more than you for the same job, it might be another way to prove pay disparity.

2. Look at public records.
If your company has filed documents with the SEC or other government agencies, those records may include employment agreements or other compensation records. Non-profits are required to provide compensation information for their highly-paid employees in annual 990 forms, found on websites like Charity Navigator.

3. Gather market data.
There are two factors in bridging the gender pay gap: being paid equitably to others in the organization and getting fair market value when comparing to the external market. Both factors must be evaluated. If you are being paid less than fair market value but everyone in the organization is being compensated at the same level, you will have a different argument than if you are being paid unfairly internally. Either way, you should still ask for a raise; having that conversation with your manager can give you a better understanding of the organization's compensation practices, and better prepare you for future requests.

There are a few websites out there that provide compensation information to individuals. Salary.com and GlassDoor are helpful launching points to get you started. For more information on the go, there's the Gender Gap App (downloadable to any smartphone) for quick facts from the U.S. Department of Labor. Also, the American Association of University's published reports and advocacy efforts can greatly help you to gather strong research. My organization, Keating Advisors, also provides customized compensation reports to individuals complete with advice on how to move forward with the market data.

Secondly: What to do if you are getting paid unfairly?

Answer the following questions:

  • Are you the only person in your role? If not, are you the same gender as your co workers?
  • How well are you performing? This factor is key - showing your manager that you want to keep tabs on your performance lets them know you are serious about your compensation.
  • How long have you been at the company?
  • Where are you on the pay scale compared to everyone else in the organization?
  • Is the salary range for your position accurate or at market level?
  • Could you make more money elsewhere, and if so, are you willing to leave the company for more money?
  • Are there reasons other than salary that you want to stay there (flexibility, commute, work life balance, etc.)?

These questions help you make an apples-to-apples comparison of your salary with your male colleagues. If you can show that you're being paid less than your co workers, or less than the fair market value, then it's time to arrange a meeting with your manager.

4. Meet With Your Manager
When you sit down with your manager, say you want to understand your compensation better and, like all savvy professionals, you have been staying on top of market trends. Base your request for a raise on your performance and value to the company and recent market and company data.

There may be objections to your request for more money. Take into consideration that women tend to take feedback about compensation personally. Remember this is about business, so try to detach your emotions from the conversation. Respond to any of your manager's objections with a positive tone and in a way that keeps the discussion moving toward your goal.

Most commonly, people hear these objections when in a discussion about raises and compensation:

"I'm sorry, but you don't have enough experience."

"Other employees aren't making more, and that's not public information."

"The budget won't permit it."

If your manager won't budge on those issues, than try to ask for more benefits surrounding your salary; you could ask for a higher travel stipend or time off. If your manager is not willing to increase your compensation, ask how to best address his or her concerns and request a meeting to discuss the issue again within an agreed-upon period of time, say six months.

Most importantly, at the end of a discussion, regardless of the outcome, you want both parties to feel that the negotiation resulted in a win-win situation. Overall, you want to acknowledge that you were finally able to stand up and try to create change for the better. Every individual step contributes towards closing the gender gap and creating equitable work environments for everyone.

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