5 Ways Women Can Overcome the Pay Gap

by Maurie Backman | Nov. 20, 2019

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The gender wage gap is real, but you don't need to be a victim of it. 

The gender wage gap is very much alive and well, and it's hurting women in more ways than one.

As of 2018, women's median earnings were only 81% of those of their male counterparts, according to The Ascent's Gender Pay Gap Statistics for 2019. Furthermore, the gender pay gap extends across all education levels. Women with bachelor's degrees earn just 69% of what men earn, while those with graduate or professional degrees earn just 68% of what men bring home. 

A woman leading a meeting in an office.

Image source: Getty Images

As such, women are more likely to fall below the poverty line, and they're less likely to enter retirement with a healthy level of savings. And because Social Security benefits are based on wages, women, unsurprisingly, tend to collect less than men. 

If you're tired of being a victim of the gender wage gap, pledge to do something about it. Here are a few ways you can advocate for fair pay and improve your financial picture as a result. 

1. Know what you're actually worth

Many companies prohibit employees from talking about their salaries, which can make it difficult to determine whether your compensation is on par with that of your male colleagues. But that doesn't mean you can't do your own outside research. Sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com let you compare earnings data based on criteria such as job title and geographic location so you can get a true feel for what your salary should look like. Having that data will place you in a solid position to march up to your employer and ask for a more equitable wage if it turns out you're statistically underpaid. 

2. Learn to be an effective negotiator

Though women are often said to be more timid than men, it turns out they ask for raises just as often as their male counterparts. The problem? Men are more likely to be successful. An estimated 37% of men and 36% of women say they've requested a raise, according to news organization Marketplace.org, but whereas 82% of men managed to snag the pay boost they asked for, only 74% of women had similar results.

If you're going to ask for a raise, it pays to be effective. To this end, focus on the ways you add value to your company, and compile a list of talking points around them before having that conversation. For example, if you're the most trusted editor on your team, or the IT person who's most frequently called upon for after-hour emergencies, those are the details you'll want to present.

Another effective negotiation tool? Hard numbers. If you can quantify your contributions to your company, your employer may be more inclined to agree to a raise. So if your training efforts increased sales by 12% last quarter, say so (and be sure to come equipped with the data to prove it). 

3. Boldly pursue promotions

Some women hesitate to climb the ranks at work because they either fear they'll be denied, or worry they won't manage to juggle the demands of a tougher job with home- and family-related responsibilities. But if you're qualified for a higher-paying job at your company, you shouldn't hesitate to go for it. 

And if you need flexibility from your employer, ask for it. It doesn't matter if you use that flexibility to occasionally leave early and pick up a child from the school bus stop. If you do your job well, your employer should grant you the same leeway your male colleagues are entitled to. 

4. Focus on benefits as well as salary

The salary you're paid is only one component of your overall compensation. While you may only manage to increase your pay so much, you can improve your overall financial picture by fighting for better benefits in conjunction with your actual wages. If you're drowning in loans then ask your employer for repayment assistance. If you feel you should have a stronger 401(k) match, request one. You never know what perks your employer might agree to, so it pays to make a case for them. 

5. Choose the right politicians

While there are steps you can take as an individual to boost your own wages, it also helps to use your voting power to foster change on a national level. To this end, research where next year's presidential candidates stand on wage equality, and support those whose stances align with yours. 

For example, California Senator and Democratic candidate Kamala Harris unveiled a plan earlier this year to hold companies accountable for unfair compensation practices. Those that fail to obtain Harris' proposed equal pay certification will face steep fines. Additionally, companies will be barred from inquiring about salary history during recruitment to help ensure that men and women are offered comparable wages.

Though the gender pay gap isn't close to disappearing, there are steps you can take to rise above it. No matter what tactics you employ to secure a fair wage, remember that in fighting for it, you're paving the way for future generations to avoid a similar struggle. And that's reason enough to push whatever boundaries you need to.

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