Faculty & Leadership Blog / Faculty in the News

Make Sure The Pay Gap Becomes History

This week the Senate failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.  That’s the act that would have required organizations to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same jobs are not gender-related.   Why would such an act even be necessary?  Don’t we already have the 1963 Equal Pay Act requiring that men and women doing the same work be paid the same?  Yes we do, and no, they don’t get paid the same!  There have been all kinds of studies done looking at men and women doing the same jobs, with the same background, in the same organizations and yet not being paid the same.  All kinds of explanations have been trotted out and yet the gender pay gap persists.  What’s a woman to do?  Here are a few thoughts:

How can women stay motivated to achieve leadership roles in business and careers?

  • It’s not really a choice for women.  More women are in the workplace than ever and their own and their families’ livelihoods depend on their ability to be successful at work. 70% of children in the U.S. today live in families where all adults are at work.  It’s a man’s issue just as much as a woman’s — twice as many married families are dual-paycheck families these days compared with the traditional notion that only the man is at work — so men should be advocating just as much for women’s equal pay as it will mean more money all around for their families and the multiplier effect will add to consumer buying demand, creating jobs in the process.  And let’s not forget about the more than 8 million single mother families.  It’s really a no-brainer to advocate for equal pay for women and paycheck fairness — I’m surprised this doesn’t get more traction in Congress and in political debate.  In the early 20th century, Henry Ford created the middle class by paying his workers more than the prevailing rate — at the time it was $5 a day — and in the process he created consumer demand for the products he was trying to sell.  If that happened across the United States today, we might be looking at a very different economic outlook.

What can women do to promote their success?

  • Do great work — to be successful the quality of the work you do matters; it’s important to do your work well and to create a track record of excellence for yourself; no one succeeds in the long haul without doing great work.  Women particularly find opportunities sometimes by offering to take on the work that no one else is willing to do; it’s a way to get your work noticed because it IS outside of the ordinary by definition.
  • Make your work visible — others in the organization need to know the value of the work you do; it’s a myth that simply doing good work will lead to recognition and rewards.  People toil away wondering why no one has noticed their contributions.  Women can be especially vulnerable to this as they may be trying to stay extra productive during work hours in order to get out of the office on time to pick kids up from daycare or to be available at night for family responsibilities
  • Make yourself visible — people need to know who you are in the organization and to be able to get data about the work you do; again, women have a tendency to eat lunch at their desks, trying to be extra efficient by multi-tasking.  Instead, leave the desk, go out and talk to others in the organization — they’ll get to learn about the work you’re doing and you will also find out what’s happening, where the opportunities and resources are, and develop important relationships
  • Learn the unwritten rules — every organization has its informal rules, the ones that are the essence of the culture and that dictate what it really takes to succeed.  These typically aren’t written down but are essential to knowing how to play the game.  Depending on the organization and the industry, women may have to work harder to find out what these are but the key thing is to be alert for cultural cues as well as look for a mentor who can provide you with insights.

How can you find out whether you’re being appropriately paid?

  • Standard theory on negotiating is that you look to a fair standard or benchmark.  When it comes to salaries, there’s some data available online that can give you a sense of the marketplace for a particular type of position but one of the best ways to find out is to talk to others about it.  In US culture, people are far more willing to talk about sex than they are about money.  We just aren’t very open about it but in the right context you can find out quite a bit.  Ask trusted peers what they’re being paid or what they see others being paid; and don’t forget to ask about other forms of compensation beyond salary.   Join an industry association or a networking group; ask folks you meet there what they’re paying for hires into particular roles, look at industry benchmark reports.  Or, develop a relationship with an HR specialist who can provide you with data.  If you’re a hiring manager yourself, you have access to information that can give you a yardstick to place your own salary in context — you can also share this information with others as appropriate.  It’s important to know what the market is paying — you may even want to interview for roles every once in a while simply to test your understanding of the current benchmark.   Remember that any data you get needs to be viewed in terms of the individual experience and capabilities of the person in the role but you will nonetheless get a valuable ballpark range from which to assess whether you’re being undervalued or not (and sometimes to appreciate the compensation package that you have!)

Shouldn’t women be bitter about this situation?

  • Being bitter doesn’t help much for motivation in the workplace.  It just saps energy you should be using to ensure your future success.  It’s a tough economy right now but there are nonetheless opportunities and more are opening now than two years ago.  If you’re wondering if you’re being valued enough, go out into the marketplace and interview for a new job.  You may discover a great opportunity and the possibility of a bump in salary.  Too often people are so afraid of losing their jobs, they hunker down into inaction.  I always say you have to be willing to window shop or even try things on every once in a while.  It’s important to keep your eye on the marketplace, check the job boards, keep your resume and your network connections up to date, so that you’re always in a position to assess job opportunities, interview, and even jump to a new opportunity.  This doesn’t mean you don’t care about what you do or the organization you’re working for, it’s simply about being a savvy player in today’s workplace.

The one thing we know is that we can’t wait for Congress to make things right.  Women need to advocate for themselves in the workplace and men should be right alongside them making sure the pay gap becomes history.  When it does families and the U.S. economy will be far better off.

Nan S. Langowitz
Professor and Chair, Management Division