THE BLOG
04/12/2016 09:20 am ET Updated Apr 13, 2017

The Biggest Mistake Women Make When Asking for a Raise

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Today is Equal Pay Day. This day symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

It was 20 years ago when the National Committee on Pay Equity discovered the disparity and created the "National Pay Inequity Day." Today, the name has evolved to the pithier "Equal Pay Day" but not much more progress has been made.

Last year, the gender wage gap narrowed by just .4 of a percent. "The female-to-male earnings ratio has not shown a statistically significant annual increase since 2007," the U.S. Census Bureau reported in a press release.

2007! It's been almost a decade and the gap isn't getting any smaller. It's not that efforts are being made - they just appear to be ineffective.

Some initiatives on the forefront:

Government: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first law President Obama signed as president in 2009. Most recently, President Obama published a proposal in January to annually collect summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 employees or more. The state of California is now enforcing its own Fair Pay Act. This act allows for the conversation about salary to be open and fluid by female workers between with their counterparts without employer retaliation.

Companies: Some businesses are adopting the policy of eliminating salary negotiation, therefore reducing the chance of un-equal pay between genders. This approach, used by the San Francisco-based web company, Reddit, creates transparency when discussing compensation because it fosters an overall attitude of fair and equal pay for all.

Activism: Hollywood has started to take notice, thanks in part to Jennifer Lawrence's remarks about pay disparities in The Hunger Games film franchise. In sports, it hasn't been much better. Billie Jean King spoke recently about her personal experience with pay inequity and how she has fought for equal pay for decades. And this year, several top players on the United States women's soccer team - including star goalkeeper Hope Solo -- filed a wage discrimination act against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The women's team - winners of the 2015 World Cup -- generated more revenue than the men, but is still only paid about 25 percent to the men's team, including bonuses and per-game income.

Yet, progress continues to stall.

Is this a negotiation issue? What are we doing wrong?

In Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, the authors show that women negotiate 30 percent less often then men and when we do, we ask for up to $16,000 less. The question is why?

And while the answer isn't straightforward, one thing is clear. The outcome of any negotiation depends on the self-confidence of the person doing the negotiation.

And for women, this is where we fall short. Self-confidence is an area that women often struggle with. It's no wonder -- the self-confidence gap starts early. Research tells us that children's books are almost twice as likely to feature a male hero? Girls in the 6th and 7th grade say being popular and well-liked are more important than being perceived as competent or independent.

By the time women enter the professional world, they are often handicapped with feelings of self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

To be the most effective negotiator, confidence is non-negotiable. The biggest mistake people make, especially women, is coming to a negotiation unprepared and unable to articulate their worth.

If you aren't confident about your abilities and the value you bring to the table, no amount of negotiation skill will get you the money you want. So, before you lean in at the negotiation table, answer the following questions:
• What experience and education do you bring to the table?
• How well are you performing in your current role?
• What unique value do you offer that differentiates you from others?
• Why do you deserve a raise?

When you can eloquently answer these questions - and ONLY then - are you ready to ask for that raise.