There’s a gender wage gap. We all know about it. We just haven’t been able to come up with a very good solution, until now. The WAGE Project believes that equal pay can come if you just ask. Of course there’s a lot of underlying systemic reasons as to why women aren’t being paid equally, and it will take systemic change to fix that, but what the WAGE project is proposing is still actually pretty ingenius. The WAGE Project wants to educate women about what they should be averaging at their job and then give women the right tools and information to negotiate a raise.
In a workshop given by the WAGE project, one of the real eye openers is when they pass out little pink dollars to illustrate how much women are earning compared to men:
Line them up next to a real dollar, and the difference is stark: 77 cents for white women; 69 cents for black women. The final dollar — so small that it can fit in a coin purse, represents 57 cents, for Latina women. On a campus that is two-thirds women, many have heard these numbers before. Yet holding them up next to one another is sobering.
This is enough to make anyone angry or sad or depressed. It’s also crucial in finally understanding that equal pay will come with a lot of hard work that’s still left to be done.
What exactly affects the gender wage gap? According to a report called “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” from the American Association of University Women, women working full time in their first year out of college earned only 82 percent of what their male peers did, on average. Some of this can be accounted for by things like the employee’s specific occupation and hours at work, but one-third of the gap remained unexplained, and therefore can be linked to systemic issues with compensation based on gender.
The WAGE Project believes that this one-third can be addressed at least in part by increased negotiation. In your first year out of college, you’re likely to jump at the first offer you get. I did! And I accepted way less than what I should have been making because everyone told me that freelance writing is not a money-making field. It wasn’t until my thesis supervisor asked what they were paying me and told me that I was being underpaid. In fact, a friend who worked for the company I was freelancing for informed me that the company was going to pay me X amount but they offered me Z amount. After I continued working for this company on a different project, I took a leap of faith in myself and asked for a raise and got it.
Asking for a raise is scary. There’s a fear of rejection. There’s a fear of the economy. There’s a fear of appearing conceited or cocky. There is a thin line between cockiness and self-confidence, and presenting that self-confidence with grace and courage is not an easy feat. Requesting a certain number isn’t the best way to present your case. The WAGE Project has a calculator on their website for you to look up what field you work in and what that field is averaging pay-wise. According to a workshop from the WAGE Project,
Women learn never to name a salary figure first, and to provide a range, not a number, if they’re pressed about it. They are coached not to offer up a figure from their last job, unless explicitly asked. The use of terms like “initial offer” — it’s not final! — is pounded into them. And, perhaps most important, they learn never, ever, to say yes to an offer immediately.
As women, we’re sometimes taught that being assertive isn’t an attractive feature. Ambition and drive in men are often viewed negatively in women. No one wants to seem conceited or cocky. In a study from Economist and Professor Linda Babcock at Carnegie Mellon, men and women requested raises using identical scripts. People were more likely to say the men deserved the raise more than the women, because the women were labelled as aggressive. In fact, the most positive things the women could do were smile while they asked or appear welcoming and friendly. So, basically, women were rewarded only if they conformed to feminine stereotypes.
Is the wage gap only about negotiating higher pay? No, obviously not. There are so many contributing factors in the gender wage gap, including outright sexism. The WAGE Project empowers women to take action and feel confident in their own skills, and to address the gap head-on (if not necessarily the reasons for it) by pushing employers to pay them what they’re worth. That sounds like a good starting point to me.