One December day I received an email with the subject line “raises and budget.” I was coming off my best year ever, hitting 125% of my annual revenue target and exceeding my sales goal by an additional $1,000,000.
When I opened the email I didn’t see my name. Instead, I saw my male colleague’s name. The email, approving his raise, had been sent to me by mistake. I was shocked. I was hurt. I was livid. Luckily, the discrepancy was so egregious that without even having to ask I was promptly right-sized. I got the raise but was left wondering: what if I hadn’t seen? How will I make sure it never happens again? Am I valued here?
So a few months later when a close friend called I found myself grappling with those same feelings and questions all over again. Following a successful, multi-year run as an investment banker at one of the world’s most prestigious banks she had moved to a smaller firm in a smaller city. With more tenure and great performance she was a big fish in a small pond. Yet here she was shaking after a more junior male colleague made an off-hand comment about compensation, illuminating just how much more he was being paid. “What should I do?” she asked me, choking back tears.
The statistics are well-known but staggering every single time: according to HIRED’s 2019 Wage Inequality in the Workplace study, 60% of the time men are offered higher salaries than women for the same job title at the same company (a gap that only widens for women of color)... and the cat is coming out of the bag all the time. “Oops” situations like mine or that of my friend, the banker, are happening every single day. The overwhelming majority of women--a whopping 69%--will learn they’re being paid less than a peer by hearing it from a colleague.
So is it any surprise that when the US Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup and went public with their battle for pay equity that it struck such a nerve? It’s the same story non-soccer-stars are living everyday: women are winning at work, making (literally) millions of dollars for their organizations, but they’re getting paid less.
So what can we do? The prognosis isn’t good. In fact, at current course and speed, the World Economic Forum predicts it will take us 202 years to close the pay gap. I don’t know about you, but I have bills to pay and financial dreams to achieve that just can’t wait that long. Here are six tips I recommend to understand and right-size your fair market value:
Understand your market value: that sounds like a tough nut to crack but it’s never been easier and Glassdoor is a fantastic place to start. Don’t just search results for your company, but also check for your competitors and for similar jobs in your same city. While they don’t segment by gender, you can see things like whether you’re on the low end or high end of a pay range. Another great way to know your market value is to actually test the market by interviewing externally. I once learned that I was being paid $30,000-$50,000 dollars under my market value by going through this exercise. I’m so glad I did because I got a new job willing to pay me what I was worth. A job that totally changed the course of my career.
Cool off before taking action: emotions run high and that’s to be expected. Especially if you’re one of the nearly 70% of women who will learn you’re being underpaid by hearing it from a colleague. That’s why it’s critical to cool off before you consider and activate on next steps.
Lead with collaborative question-asking, not combative accusations: two of my favorite questions here are “can you help me understand?” and “can you say more about that?” This doesn’t only de-escalate a tense (but important) conversation. It also puts the manager in a position of having to explain the “why.” That can be a lightbulb moment in having the manager come to their own conclusion about why the pay discrepancy makes no sense. Those answers are also important things to hear and document in the event the manager doesn’t come to that conclusion.
Ask for right-sizing, not a raise: if you learn you’re making less than a peer you shouldn’t ask for a raise, you should ask to be right-sized. It’s not just semantics: a raise is a reward while right-sizing is correcting something that is wrong. Another important distinction: raises are often a unique event while right-sizing can be an iterative process. Case in point is the US Women’s soccer team. As the New York Times reports, “last year, FIFA doubled the prize money for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, to $30 million, and last week its president, Gianni Infantino, pledged that he would seek to double it again in time for the next edition in 2023.” Closing the gap can sometimes be incremental and that’s not perfect but it’s a move in the right direction. Something Major Pro Tip: check out my previous article, “Asking Better, Getting More,” for tactics on how to successfully have difficult conversations.
Remind people why you’re worth it. Megan Rapinoe said it perfectly after winning the World Cup, “We — all players, every player at this World Cup — put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for. We can’t do anything more, to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better, to do anything. It’s time to move that conversation forward to the next step.” You don’t have to be a soccer star to tell an accomplishments- and impact-driven story about your value and why you’re worth at least what your male counterparts are.
Don’t be afraid to go elsewhere: as the New York Times’ Andrew Das observed about the US Women’s Soccer team, “For now, the American players’ best hope to close a significant compensation gap may be to exploit their soaring profile away from the field.” It’s not fair that they have to do that but, to Das’ point, kudos to them for (re)claiming their agency even when their organization isn’t rising to the occasion. Per tips #4 and #5, you shouldn’t be afraid to remind people (constructively) about what you’re worth and to advocate for right-sizing. With that said, it’s also okay to move onto a new organization that is willing to pay you what you’re worth and where you feel valued. Your departure will send a strong message—especially when you document that as your reason for leaving.
The US Women’s Soccer team are champions who are being paid less than the male colleagues who underperformed them. They’re worth it and you’re worth it too.
Randi Braun is a business development executive by day and career coach by night, living in Washington, DC, and the founder of Something Major. To learn more visit www.somethingmajorcoaching.com. (c) Randi Braun 2019.