Autumn fell in earnest over Seattle as nearly 100 people gathered together in the Galvanize space to learn about, and commiserate over, the pay equity gap that’s been widening once more over the last few years. Although Washington state is considered very progressive, it currently ranks 35th in the nation for pay equity. All three of the charismatic speakers on the panel interviewed by Jennie Ellis, CEO of Recruiting Bandwidth, spoke to different viewpoints about this issue and why it’s more difficult to fix than just adjusting salaries.
Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Tech Industry Association, opened by telling a story about the first time he encountered this problem around 1987. He’d just been promoted into a management role in engineering, and saw a payroll that told the story of obvious pay inequality. The only woman on his team was being paid 5k less than a man in the same role, with the same background and qualifications. He changed her salary to match her counterpart’s and thought that was it. He fixed it! No more issues! And then went on to say that he’s been doing that same thing, over and over again, for the last 30 years.
The problem, at its root, is systemic
Michael went on to elaborate that it’s a norm in the United States that it’s our right and obligation to negotiate salaries for ourselves. Yet, so many little girls are taught to be polite, while so many little boys are taught to be tough and aggressive. Combine that with the strong taboo around discussing salaries, and you might be able to see why this problem has such deep roots in our professional culture here in the US.
Carolina Duclos, a Business Development Executive at Avanade, shared a story about how commonplace discussion of salary was in her previous home in Mexico, where “how much do you make?” very commonly follows a “nice to meet you”. She came to the United States and found that, not only is the question uncomfortable for most people, it’s clear that there are plenty of those in power who don’t ever want it to become a comfortable topic of conversation.
Mikaela Kiner, CEO of uniquelyHR, stepped in to stress Michael’s point about how upbringing affects both genders. There are different values placed on work that’s predominantly done by women vs. men. Worse yet, even in fields dominated by women, often it’s still the few men in those roles that rise to the top. In her example, she mentioned that (life) coaching is a well paying job typically held by a woman. Most of the male executive coaches in the field, however, command a higher wage than the women in the same field.
So what’s your worth? More than a philosophical question
Carolina stressed that above all else, knowing what your personal worth is will help you feel confident in asking for a raise or negotiating for a salary that’s appropriate to what you bring to the table. Passionate about this topic and honest about her own experiences, Carolina said she, and other women she knows, are terrified of having difficult conversations around what they should be paid. In order to have those conversations, she went on, you need to be well prepared, do your research, and know why you’re asking for a raise.
So, what do you do if you think you might be paid less than your peers for no apparent reason? Get in touch with a recruiter! Who better to know what a role is worth than the person on the front lines? Whether it’s an exploratory discussion, or a full-on interview, getting in touch with someone who’s got their finger on the pulse of talent acquisition can help you figure out a starting point. Also, Practice! Practice asking for your raise or new salary – in front of a mirror, with a loved one, with anyone you trust. You’re selling yourself, and your achievements and you have a greater probability of being confident if it’s a speech you’re familiar with giving.
Above all else: don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. Your job satisfaction contributes to a company’s retention, and on a bigger scale, the diversity of voices and backgrounds in that company. You now know this is a systemic, long-standing issue. Step up and be part of the solution to close this equity gap and make compensation inequality a thing of the past.