THE BLOG

Inequity In Women's Pay: We're (Partly) to Blame

08/19/2013 06:00 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2013

It's no secret that women are paid less than men.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women on average get 77 cents for every $1 a man is paid.

But it turns out pay inequity extends right up to the top rung of corporate America.

A recent Bloomberg report shows that the small sliver of S&P 500 CEOs who happen to be women (8 percent if you're counting) earn on average about 18 percent less than men.

But here's the thing.

It's our fault.

At least partly.

As CEOs interviewed by Bloomberg revealed -- as have numerous studies -- women don't do a very good job negotiating for themselves when it comes to pay.

Dawn Lepore, former CEO at Drugstore.com, acknowledges in the Bloomberg piece, "I was always focused on negotiating for my team but never as good at negotiating for myself."

If we want to achieve equality in the workplace, we can't wait for others to do it for us. We have to do it ourselves. We have to make things happen for us, not wait for things to happen to us.

Fortunately, we can turn to a lawyer for help -- but not necessarily in the way you might expect.
Laurel Bellows is an attorney who specializes in executive compensation issues. She made pay equity a priority during her recent stint as president of the American Bar Association.

As Laurel puts it, many factors are unfortunately out of our control when it comes to equal pay. But there is one way we can influence how much we are paid: We can improve our negotiation skills.

Laurel has three primary recommendations for women to negotiate the salary they want and deserve:

1. Prepare. In Laurel's words, preparation is power. Before you interview for your new position, make at least 10 phone calls to try and determine what comparable jobs should pay. Find out about the people with whom you will be negotiating. Take time to think about what your dream job should be. Remember too that compensation isn't just about money but also about workplace benefits, development opportunities and other issues. Write down what you're dream agreement would be, and then use it to develop a two-minute elevator speech.

2. Don't underestimate yourself and your value. Instead, tout it. You have unique skills. You're in demand. And you're good at what you do. Don't let others undervalue your contributions, experience and skills.

3. Trust people, but get it in writing. Negotiation is about building trust, and you should trust the people with whom you're negotiating. But assume nothing, and get everything in writing.

Hear more details directly from Laurel here.

Here's something else I firmly believe women need to do: Help other women.

It's disappointing that only 8 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women. It's discouraging that less than 17 percent of Fortune 500 company board seats are held by women.

But that doesn't mean that the few women who are in executive positions shouldn't do more to develop and bring up other women behind them.

If we really want to change the world for women, then women in executive positions need to use their positions to open opportunities for others.

Women who aren't in executive positions, meanwhile, need to make things happen for themselves -- not wait for things to happen to them. They need to define the jobs they want and make a plan to get there. They need to find mentors, sponsors and others who can help them, and they need to make sure decision-makers know who they are and what they want to accomplish.

And all of us need to make sure women are paid what they deserve.