Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a pretty bleak article about the persistence of the gender wage gap -- and how it is especially pronounced among highly educated women. As the article says, “many white-collar jobs give substantially larger financial rewards to those logging the longest hours and who job-hop often, phenomena that limit white-collar women who pull back for child-rearing.”
As co-founder of Fairygodboss, I spend a lot of time thinking about how employers can make better workplaces for women, but I also realize that it’s only half of the story. Individuals can also maximize our chances for success and help improve gender equality at work by changing our own behavior. Therefore, I was intrigued by this assertion about “job-hopping” and how women seem to demonstrate less willingness to seek out new jobs when they have children at home, thus contributing to the pay gap.
Considering these new findings from WSJ, here are some thoughts I have about how women can help reduce the pay gap and get the raise they deserve:
1) Stop apologizing.
“After having children, I was much more hesitant to ask for a raise or more responsibility” says one woman I spoke to. “I always felt like everyone was so gracious about me leaving by 6:00 pm that I never wanted to rock the boat.”
This notion that women need to “apologize” for balancing home responsibilities with work seems pervasive. Yet a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that women with children are more productive at work than their childless peers. The implication here is that a working mother achieves more in a shorter period of time, which was certainly my personal experience: knowing that I had a hard stop at the end of the day made me work harder and smarter during workday hours.
Women, don’t let becoming a working mother - or a schedule change that accompanies it - make you gun shy about asking for a raise or equal compensation to your male peers. You can be certain that your male colleagues, who often also change schedules after having children (and should!), are not apologizing to anyone.
According to the WSJ article, the more specialized a job is, the more the wage gap persists. On the contrary though, I believe that if women find a discipline or area in which to specialize, we can make our own rules and have more leverage over our compensation.
Another woman I spoke to had just successfully negotiated a salary increase of 25%. She works in a highly specialized area of finance, and said, “I would have never been that bold except that I had reached a point where I was genuinely ok walking away from my job. At first I was turned down, but later [my manager] came back to me and said that they would pay me what I had asked. I knew it was because there was no one else readily available who could do what I do.”
It has always been an important priority in my career to demonstrate real value to the company. Companies are businesses, after all. If you can truly differentiate yourself through the value you provide - in the form of revenue, knowledge, contacts, skills, you name it - you will have more leverage. And once you have that leverage, don’t be shy about using it.
3) Go on at least two interviews every year.
Early in my career, I was surprised when a senior HR person from my company advised me that everyone should go on two interviews a year. That way you can get a feel for what jobs are out there and what your market value is.
As Mary Olson-Menzel, President of MVP Executive Search and Development puts it, “you owe it to yourself to keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities. Complacency is not an option these days. The best thing you can do for yourself and your career is to always keep an eye on what other jobs or opportunities are out there. Being strategic about switching jobs is the very best way to make sure you're getting paid at full market value."
There are many great resources today (including Fairygodboss) that allow you to browse available jobs, and you should apply and interview so you can stay in the game and maintain a keen understanding of the landscape. I know that in the past, I’ve been hesitant to appear to be job-seeking, but the reality is that you have to take care of yourself. If you are truly a valued employee and your company finds out you’ve interviewed, again -- they are a business so they will react like one, and make it a priority to address your issues starting with comp.
4) Be clear with your manager about what matters to you.
We frequently talk to male managers who are nervous or uncomfortable about what approach to take with working mothers. For example, some assume that working mothers don’t want more responsibility; others assume that women on their team may prefer flexibility to more money. And many may assume that women are unlikely to be flight risks because data and experience says they usually are not.
So let your manager know often that pay matters to you, and it matters just as much as to the men on your team. Be proactive and clear, and let your manager know - subtly - that you are willing to go elsewhere if necessary.
It sounds trite, but the best way to position yourself for advancement and pay increases is to network. Unfortunately, as Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo, recently wrote in Fortune: “women spend more time doing, and less time networking.” Whether women are less comfortable aggressively seeking out new relationships or they just feel too busy to do it, women are less likely to build and maintain the kinds of relationships that can lead to opportunities for advancement and increased income.
So make yourself and your accomplishments visible within your company and your industry. Go to networking events and seek out leaders at your company and others to ask for advice or informational interviews. You should constantly plant seeds and you never know that opportunities might sprout as a result.
When you stand up for yourself to demand equal compensation to your male counterparts, you will improve your own circumstances -- but you’ll also be helping women everywhere. Every time a woman concedes or accepts less than she is due at work, she is reinforcing the construct of the gender pay gap.
So working mothers, let’s all do what we can from our end to work toward equal compensation. After all, as many a mother has probably said, if you want something done right, you probably have to do it yourself.