04/07/2014 11:53 am ET Updated Jun 07, 2014

Closing the Pay Gap in 3 Simple Steps

Tomorrow, April 8th, is Equal Pay Day.

For every dollar a man earns, White women earn 77 cents, Black women earn 69 cents and Latina women earn just 57 cents.

For nearly 20 years, Equal Pay Day has been marked to represent the point each year when women's earnings finally catch up to men's earnings from the previous year. On average, women who leave college and get their first jobs earn just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men who do the same work. It takes women an extra three months of wages to make up that 23-cent difference, and they never close the gap in earnings over their entire working lives.

In this day and age, it is unfair, unacceptable and astounding that there is still such a disparity between women and men. Although women have made steady progress in education and in the workplace, the pay gap hasn't budged in a decade. If we want to see true pay equity in our lifetimes, each of us must take matters into our own hands.

Here are three steps women can take to fight for equal pay:

1. Negotiate. Learning how to negotiate well (for a salary or other workplace compensation) is IMPORTANT and NECESSARY. Your ability to advocate successfully for yourself will affect your career forever. If you start your career underpaid, it's that much more difficult to climb the salary ladder, so don't sell yourself short at the beginning. One of the most important factors in a successful negotiation is understanding what the market pays for a position. My compensation consulting firm, Keating Advisors, offers individual compensation data reports to help level the playing field by allowing individuals to get up-to-date salary data.

2. Advocate. During the last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke of his desire to make 2014 a year of action on behalf of women in the workplace -- and of his willingness to act without Congress. It gave me hope, as I discussed in my blog on the Huffington Post. The American Association of University Woman (AAUW) and Lilly Ledbetter lobbied for the executive order in both the Washington Post and ForbesWoman, and the New York Times echoed the call in a staff editorial. The Washington Post described the executive order as a key call to action by Ledbetter during her visit to Washington, D.C., for the State of the Union and the fifth anniversary of her namesake law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

President Obama has also pledged to raise the minimum wage for new government contract workers in his State of the Union address. An increase in the minimum wage will most assuredly benefit women, who make up almost two-thirds of the country's minimum wage workers.
Although we still need Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to protect all workers from being retaliated against or fired for discussing their salaries, the president can act on his own right now. Each of us must spread the word and it isn't hard to do. Tell the President to Act on Equal Pay at AAUW.

3. Educate. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, nearly half of all workers are either prohibited or strongly discouraged from talking with their colleagues about how much they make. Open dialogue is often the only way that women know how they are paid in comparison to their male colleagues. We need to ask corporate leaders, Human Resources, and managers to adopt transparent and objective compensation policies and procedures. And once clear policies and procedures are in place, managers should be responsible for educating their staff about how compensation works at their organization.
Since its creation in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, Equal Pay Day has symbolized just how far a woman must go through the year to equal a man's pay. Each year, dauntless organizations and inspiring individuals stand up and speak out against this disparity to bring this day even closer to January 1st - but they don't have to be alone.

Your individual contribution by negotiating your pay, advocating for others, and educating your peers brings all of us closer to closing the gap. So go ahead, do your research, speak out and lean in.