Increase Your Salary, Starting Right Now

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Now trending in the buzzkill department: You lose, on average, half a million dollars in wages over the course of your life if you’re a woman.
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It’s Blog Action Day, when sites around the web gather to focus on one major cause. This year, it’s inequality. The latest stats on the income inequality front are dire:
Women overall still earn just 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. African-American women, 64; Hispanic women, just 53. Lesbians earn less than men, regardless of the men’s sexual orientation, and mothers are paid only 69 cents for every dollar earned by fathers, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Just one in seven CEOs are women, and just one-fifth of executive jobs belong to women, showed a study by Infogroup Targeting Solutions of 800,000 U.S. leadership positions.
Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated that women shouldn’t ask for raises, and should instead rely on “karma” to get paid what they’re worth. (He apologized after a public backlash, illustrating that perhaps karma just ain’t doing it in terms of many women’s compensation.)
And, last month, the U.S. Senate blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which proposed a ban on salary secrecy and the creation of training programs to help women negotiate compensation.
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We don’t like keeping secrets, at least when it comes to fair pay, and we’re imploring you not to accept that, either. The pay gap may be narrowing among millennials, but it still affects women joining the workforce one year out of college, regardless of their major and chosen field, explains Fatima Gross Graves of the National Women's Law Center. And, that gap affects you more profoundly as your career progresses, says Sarah Jane Glynn of the Center for American Progress.
“The wage gap only accounts for gender, not education or career choices,” Glynn says. “People think that the fact that women are graduating at a greater degree than men and going into traditionally male-dominated, high-salary fields like STEM industries are positive moves that will close the wage gap.” Not only is this just one small career field, but for every story we hear about a woman breaking the glass ceiling and making billions, there are countless other stories about women who are making less than men right out of the gate. Plus, career path choices don’t take place in a vacuum; there are societal forces that lead the majority of women to choose career options that may yield less money, such as jobs with more flexibility for when they want to start a family, says Glynn.
“Studies show that if someone works 20% more hours, they make 40% more pay,” Glynn says. So, if you’re looking for more flexibility and less actual face-time, that often translates to less take-home pay, even if you’re doing the same quality of work.
But, the gloom-and-doom data doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Here are five ways you personally can work to narrow the gap.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
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1. Know How Much You Should Be Making
Talk to women and men about salary ranges in your industry (Glassdoor.com is a great resource). While it’s not illegal, it is common for companies to discourage people from discussing salaries, so colleagues/potential employers can be cagey if asked outright. Inquire with someone who held the position previously or works in a similar job at another company.
2. Ask For It
Studies have found that men negotiate more for their salaries — and receive more, starting from their very first job. If you haven’t negotiated a salary, start learning. Does the idea of haggling with an HR rep or future boss give you hives? Practice with your roommates, your partner, your parents, in front of a mirror. The more you learn how to say, "I want $X," the more natural it’ll feel in conversations where it really matters.
3. Know Your Rights, But Tread Carefully
If you know a male (or white) coworker is making far more than you despite having the same job title or description, your employer may be practicing discrimination, which is illegal. Look to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to understand your rights and potential next steps. "Sometimes pay disparities are inadvertent, and we have heard from a number of women who have successfully raised the issue with their employer," says Graves. Still, Graves warns that retaliation is a real thing that can occur if pay discrimination is brought up — and, unfortunately, the current penalties for employers who practice wage discrimination are light. That's why it's essential to support legislation that penalizes discrimination.
4. Find A Results-Oriented Workplace
More and more companies are open to flexible work arrangements in the pursuit of excellent work. This benefits work-life balance for all workers, not just women.
5. Look At The Big Picture — Then Vote On It
The constellation of issues around equal pay, including low-cost early childhood education, stronger family medical leave acts, and raising the minimum wage, are likely to be big issues going into the midterm and 2016 elections. Research your local candidates on these issues — and support them on election days.
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6. Speak Out
Start (and continue) conversations with your friends about salaries. “Making the issue an essential one makes a difference to employers; they know the information is out there and that workers want change," says Graves. And, talk to us: Share your own wage disparity stories in the comments below.
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