April 2 is Equal Pay Day, which symbolically marks how much longer into the year women would have to work in order to earn as much as men did the previous year.
Among all full-time workers, the average woman made about 80 cents for every dollar a man made in 2017, according to the latest Census Bureau data. The gap is even wider for black and Hispanic women.
But, in some industries, the gap narrows when comparing the pay of male and female workers who have the same education level, experience and job tenure.
While more companies are being transparent about their pay, it can be a real gut punch to find out a male colleague with similar or even less experience is making more for the same role. Here’s what these women did when they found out.
I was told ‘You’re single without kids’
It’s been 30 years since Emily Lawrence found out she was making a lot less than her male colleague, but she’s still shocked by her boss’s reasoning.
She was working as a budget analyst for a congressional committee in Washington, DC at her first real job out of college in 1988.
She was making $19,000 a year.
“It was the time in my life I was making the least amount of money, but having the most fun,” she recalled.
But when the committee staff’s salaries was made public, Lawrence saw she was earning less than half the amount one of her male colleagues was making. While he had a bit more experience, Lawrence’s boss was often asking her to redo the male colleague’s work.
She marched into her boss’s office with “the brashness only a 22-year-old could muster” wanting to know why she was making so much less.
According to Lawrence, this is what her female boss told her: The male colleague had a wife and family to support, while Lawrence was single.
“I was stunned,” she recalled.
Lawrence responded that her personal life shouldn’t play a role in determining her compensation. A few months later, she got a 50% raise.
“I’ve never not negotiated a salary since then,” said Lawrence, who is currently an in-house attorney for a global manufacturing company.
“Do your salary research, and if you get an offer from a company, negotiate. As long as you do it intelligently and respectfully, they aren’t going to hold that against you.”
I was barely making more than the intern
Olivia Jaras has made a career out of teaching women to negotiate compensation and get what they deserve. It’s a passion that comes from firsthand experience.
In 2011, Jaras started working at a financial institution. She was a contractor, and one of her responsibilities was running payroll for international employees.
The hours were long and the work was intense, but it was a great opportunity. Eventually, they brought in an intern to help her with projects. He was an undergrad making $2,500 a month. Jaras was making $2,800 a month. At the time, she had her MBA and was working on getting her masters in Latin American economic development.
“I was fuming, I was so mad when I found out.” So she started strategizing: She read some books, did her research and had a plan on how to ask her boss for a raise.
It didn’t go well.
She opened her case noting that she was only making $300 more than the intern.
“He looked at me very puzzled and started getting red and I could tell something wasn’t sitting right with him. He got so pissed off,” Jaras recalled.
He kicked her out of his office telling her she should be thankful to still have a job and to never come back with an emotional justification on how she should be valued more.
“I went back into my corner, and put my head down and kept working.” But she was demoralized, and started to disengage in her work in the following months. “I thought maybe it’s time to go home and have kids. I was done with this environment.”
Jaras ended up leaving the job about a year later and relocated to New Hampshire where she later accepted a job after negotiating everything she wanted.
Jaras now runs Salary Coaching for Women, which helps women negotiate for better pay.
“I did what most women do wrong when they go to negotiate. I went in with my emotions on my sleeve. If I had just scrapped my emotions and brought it all down to quantifiable evidence with what I was worth in the market and how my job had changed over time … it would have been a very different conversation.”
The men I trained were making more than me
Elisabeth Trueblood was working as a night auditor for a local hotel when the company hired three male employees. Trueblood, who was attending college at the time, helped train the new hires. One eventually confided to her that he made 50 cents more an hour, plus 25 cents extra an hour for working the late shift.
“It was frustrating,” recalled Trueblood, now 27. She asked for a raise and was told that the next time the company gave out raises she could negotiate for more. She was, however, given the additional pay for working the late shift.
Trueblood has learned from the experience. She recently negotiated her pay before accepting a new position, and has more than doubled her salary since graduating.
The experience was also partly why she decided to pursue a career in human resources. She estimates she’s hired more than 500 people, and says it’s “super rare” when a woman negotiates.
“I would say 90% of women don’t negotiate. When men get a ‘no’ on pay, they ask for what else the company can do for them, like more PTO or Fridays off.”
I learned early on that I need to negotiate
Melinda Garcia was doing well at her first job at a digital marketing agency in Boston. She had been promoted twice and her salary increased more than 30% from $28,000 to $37,500 in almost two years.
When she got promoted to account manager, she accepted without negotiating. A few months later, the company hired two men for the same position. While they were all waiting for training one day, one of the new hires casually complained about how little the position paid. He was making $45,000.
Garcia was in shock. She had more experience and had been at the company longer.
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“He didn’t have any experience whatsoever, it was his first corporate job and he was offered almost $10,000 more than me,” she said. “I was so upset and felt taken advantage of.”
Armed with this new information she went into her boss’s office the next day and asked for a raise. Her boss seemed caught off guard by the request, Garcia recalled.
“She was instantly confused asking where this was coming from.” Garcia didn’t divulge that she knew her male colleague’s salary, and made her case based on her merits: Her increased workload and the value she brought to the company. Her manager offered her a raise to $45,000, which was soon increased to $50,000 for exceeding sales targets.
Garcia, 28, is now making more than double the raise she was seeking, and is currently working at Fairygodboss.
“When asking for more money, you should have receipts. Don’t walk in blindly, show what you have done,” she said.