Equal Pay Day 2012: Don't Get Mad, Get Even

By now, you hopefully know that today is Equal Pay Day. April 17th: the glorious day denoting that point at which, were you an average woman compared to an average man, you'd have earned as much money from January 2011 as he had in the 2011 fiscal year. Rather than focus on the negatives that have led to this disparity, let's take today to focus on how you can elevate your own career and start asking for more out of your employer and personal life alike.

The background of the pay gap

The commonly tossed-around statistic is that women earn 77 cents to a man's dollar. That's a broad-based average from 2010 -- and while it's both dramatic and powerful, it also glosses over aberrations and complexities in the female work cycle (specifically child-rearing, grad school and women's higher tendency to job-hop).

And while formal women's networks do exist -- even commonly -- the alignment of formal programs with the networks that are truly pushing women forward in their careers is often lacking. Women suffer from a lack of role models in management -- especially in "hard science" fields like engineering and math.

Evening the score between men and women in the workplace

While the inner workings of subconscious sexism and systemic gender-based discrimination are being hashed out and disseminated by major and minor media alike, there's a practical fallout from Equal Pay Day as well. That's the importance of proactive strategic forethought and skillful negotiation to a successful career.

Honing and mastering a few skills that seem to contradict traditional female roles can do a lot to boost the success of your career without even broaching the issue of whether you're competent at your current position or not.

If you're looking for a job

1. Master the art of cover letters. Write general templates that you can customize for each prospective position application. And remember to write what you know. You're not as good at writing fluff as you think you are.

2. Get the interview. Without a strong resume, meaningful cover letter and actual thought behind your application, you may as well not apply to a job. Learn to improve your odds at getting a callback here.

3. Utilize your social network. Don't bemoan your lack of connections to the business world. Realize that you already have many of the connections that you need in order to start making inroads toward that dream job. It's just a matter of seeing opportunities where they are instead of where you wish they would be.

If you're looking for more out of your paycheck (or just more paycheck)

1. Do your homework. Before negotiating your salary, know how replaceable you are and what skills you have that are vital to the success of your company. Be able to quantify the impact of what you've done. And know your competition. Research your industry. Ask your friends and coworkers (if surreptitiously) for ballpark estimates.

2. Know your ask. Sometimes your best-laid plans to argue for a higher salary (you know the argument you've got built up in your mind) all boil down to "How much more do you want?" That's a two-second answer. Have it ready.

3. Don't back down. If you feel like you're on the defensive, think of your ask as a conversation rather than a presentation. This will allow you be realistic about both your needs and your value to the company. If you're stage-fright prone, practice with a friend (let's face it--if you really want a raise, you've probably talked about it with your friends already). You can carry pieces of that conversation to your manager.

Check out The Levo League's Equal Pay Day microsite -- it has video testimonials and quotes from women who've had success negotiating their pay, and it includes a little calculator to help you plan your next salary negotiation ask!