Equal Pay Day focuses our attention on the challenges women face in the workplace regarding fair compensation. A few companies, like Microsoft, have responded to this challenge by becoming more transparent about their pay practices. But the reality remains that most companies are not ready to make drastic changes to their policies. Each of us still has to take responsibility for narrowing our own pay gap.
I recently consulted Carolyn Thompson, executive recruiter and founder of the Washington Women's Leadership Initiative (WWLI), to comment on what women can do to help narrow their pay gap. Carolyn believes that women should take control of the pay gap issue themselves—in their own careers—to help bring about broader change for female workers.
Bonnie Marcus: You suggest that when we are negotiating our salary, negotiate cash first, then perks. Can you elaborate?
Carolyn Thompson: You should look at the total package, but don't use that as a substitute for the money upfront. We started seeing trends of more generous leave programs and things like that and many women would come in and negotiate other things that were more important to them than just the cash money. That's contributed to the wage gap that we have. Very few men will come in and say, "Well, I would like to negotiate an extra day off a month and for that, I'm willing to give up $5,000." They negotiate the money first and get the cash that they want. And then the perks generally come with it. Because they're going to give the same perks to one person or another. That's just the way corporations work. Generally speaking, you're going to get the perks you're going to get anyway. So there's no reason to give up cash in lieu of something else.
Marcus: Without transparency, it's not always easy to find out what is a fair and equitable salary for your position. How do you know what to ask for?
Thompson: One good way is to talk to people who've left the company. Generally speaking, you can almost always assure that when someone leaves, they're leaving for more money. Let a month or two pass and have lunch with them. Talk to them about how their job is going and say, "I'm just curious. How much money were you making when you left?"
Marcus: It's review time and you've done your homework and you know that there are people at your level who are making more money. How do you use that information?
Thompson: Talk to your boss and take your list of accomplishments that you've generated over the course of the last review cycle. And when they say, "We're going to move you to this," you can ask them for more money right then and there. And say, "Listen, I'm really appreciative of this. But I would really like to be considered at this level. And here's why. These are the 6 things that I did that were above and beyond the call of duty in the last 6 months. I feel that there may be some pay inequities in our group." And if they ask how you found that out, you can say, "I have spoken to people who left the company." And it's not against the rules, because they're no longer your co-workers.
Marcus: And should you have a dollar amount in mind when you go in?
Thompson: Yes. Most people who I've counseled ask for a raise and they get it. If you don't get it and you've been there a long time and you feel that you're way behind market based upon 4 or 5, even 6 pieces of information that you've gathered more specifically related to your company and your role, you can let them know you have that information and where you got it from. "Listen, I have a friend who works and does the same job at a competing company and they're making this. I feel that our pay is a little bit behind the market here."
Marcus: Besides changing levels, do you have other tips for how to bridge that gap?
Thompson: Say you did something that was significantly special. You brought in a new client. Or you created an efficiency that now saved the company thousands of dollars. Or in Accounting if you found an accounting error that was a major coup to the company, you want to point that out and be recognized for that. You may end up getting a spot bonus instead of an increase on your pay. And that's again, going to be dependent upon budgets and things like that that are set. Because managers do their annual budgets a year before they're actually due.
Marcus: You also recommend requesting a performance review more often than annually.
Thompson: The millennials are looking for things to go a little bit faster. We've seen a trend in a lot of companies moving towards bi-annual reviews and even quarterly reviews, instead of annual reviews. Rather than having to wait a year to have a sit-down with your boss, you can ask for informal quarterly reviews as well as a more formal biannual review. It's common with salespeople to have meetings with their boss almost every week or every month to go over their numbers. So it depends on what your career is. You don't have to wait a year to get a review. And if your company doesn't institute this, you can softly go about changing that culture yourself by asking for it.
Marcus: What about raising your hand for stretch assignments?
Thompson: Absolutely. But your work still has to get done. You have to be able to complete your first and primary responsibilities. One example that comes to mind is people who are nominated for different committees within the organization or volunteer to work on a committee, like the Women's Leadership Initiative or the Minority Leaders Initiative or something like that. But it's important to raise your hand for the stretch assignment, which will help you grow.
Marcus: You recommend dressing the part as well.
Thompson: Yes! If you don't dress like your supervisor dresses and you don't dress up for the next job, it's unlikely it's going to come to you.