How to get equal pay for equal work

A woman at work holding her baby

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: Ladies, I'm sorry to say that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we still earn on average 20 percent less than men doing our same jobs. Part of the reason may be that studies show we're bad negotiators. And selling yourself short -- even once -- can set you back for the rest of your career.

Reporter Ashley Milne-Tyte talked with a few negotiators to explore the disparity.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: So I have this friend named Nancy Barrow. She's dynamic, energetic and confident. She works in a pretty ego-driven profession -- she DJs a morning show at a radio station in Connecticut. You'd think she'd be the last person who'd have a problem asking for more money. But she hates it.

Nancy Barrow: Whenever I go into an office, with a boss, and I have to sit and tell you why I'm worth money, it gives me such agitation. Like for weeks I stress about it, and for weeks, I just get myself in a knot. Because I know I take it so emotionally, that if you're not going to say "yes" to what I think I'm worth and why I should get paid that, I've gotten you all these great ratings, and you're making more money, and if they told me "no" I think I would cry in the office. And I know that's just, you know, rule number one is you never cry in negotiations, ever.

I have a couple of friends who actually have cried during negotiations. Nancy says just to make sure things never got that hairy in hers, about 10 years ago she hired an agent to do the talking for her. She says in her industry the guys are definitely paid more, and all her bosses have been male.

Barrow: And I needed a male agent, because I figured people take you more seriously when a male is representing you. And I'm sure that a lot of people are gonna say that I'm very sexist in that situation, that's why I got myself a man, but I figured, you know, what better gun to get, than a male gun to go up against another male. I felt that it really put me at an even playing field.

But is it ever really an even playing field? I've spoken to so many women who feel men come out of negotiations better than they do. It was time to find a boss to help me sort out why.

Porter Bibb is managing partner of Media Tech Capital Partners in Manhattan. He has two female partners who he says wouldn't put up with less than their fair share. But he says in general, female employees are far less likely than men to ask for a raise. And he says the majority of the women who have negotiated with him have accepted less than they could have got if they'd kept pushing.

Porter Bibb: Women don't have the -- and this is my personal opinion -- the forthright determination to protect their own interests when they're negotiating for themselves. They, they're -- basically they're great employees, because they also understand the company's position that "Oh, we can't afford to pay you any more," that argument. And men would just say, "Look, I've got five other offers, and I'm out of here if I don't get what I'm looking for."

By and large most women are not ego-driven to win the negotiation or to be as forward as men are. Men are much more competitive and ego-centric.

Of course! I'd never really thought about that before, but once he said it, it made perfect sense. Most women I know are a lot less egotistical than the guys. Even if they're as attractive and accomplished as Julia Dawson. She lives in New York, she's married, in her late thirties with a nine-month-old son. She works as a design director at a menswear company.

Julia Dawson: I'm just really shy standing up for myself at the end of the day. I think it's something that you're just not taught to do as a little girl. And, I think, you know, for me it just causes me a lot of anxiety because it basically allows, it basically says "Hi, I think I'm worth this and I deserve this."

She dreads the back and forth so much, this year, she went and found a therapist specifically to coach her on her negotiating technique

Dawson: And we would just kind of rehearse it, like it was an act. And we would just go through and say, "OK, well what if she said this?" And I said, "Well, I would feel this." And she's like, "No, don't feel it, what would you say?" And I was just like, "Well, I would say..." You know, we kind of came back with the curve balls. She would teach me what are the curve balls, kind of thing.

Julia's husband Steve is sitting next to her on the couch as she describes all this. He works in finance for a multinational. He's sympathetic. But he thinks it should be pretty easy to get a raise if you deserve one.

Steve Dawson: I always try to negotiate on the basis of facts. I try to leave emotion out of it. People aren't interested in my personal situation. It's irrelevant as to whether or not I have a young child to support. What they're interested in is "Do I deserve this pay raise? What value can I add to this particular group?"

It all sounds very sensible. But it doesn't always work that way. Julia says she's dealing with managers who are stuck in the past, who see her same way they did 10 years ago when she first started working there. Steve says it's up to her to change that, by whipping out those good old facts.

Steve: And you can say, "Well look at my output, look at my record," you know, and you've done all of these things. I think you just need to be able to present or communicate it in a more structured fashion where you could say "Look..."

Julia: Hence, let's make a list!

Steve: "Look, in this particular division... You know, I was new in..."

Julia did get her promotion, though the raise wasn't as big as she'd hoped. Her boss blamed that on the downturn. Julia says she may not enjoy negotiating, but she's glad she sought help to improve her tactics. It might be good idea for the rest of us. And we should try to gag the nice girl so many of us were raised to be, the one who says "don't be too pushy."

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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