by Teri Fritsma
There may be some skeptics out there, but the data is clear: women, on average, still earn less than men. Sex differences in education, experience, and career choices can explain some of the gap, but not all of it. For example, take just college graduates who work full-time. Men’s median weekly wages are $1,243, while women’s are $932 for women (see this chart for the data). And this graphic (based on data from the 2007 Current Population Survey) shows that women earn less even when they work in the same occupation as men. Here in Minnesota, women make about 80 cents for every dollar men earn. (That’s an unadjusted figure that doesn’t take into account sex differences in education, experience, career choices, etc.)
The pay gap has shrunk significantly over the past 30 years. Still, these days even a small pay gap has big implications for families. For the first time ever, women are on the verge of outnumbering men in the labor force. And while it’s not new for women to work, what is new is that many women are finding themselves in the role of breadwinner. Men have been much more likely than women to lose their jobs during this recession (especially here in Minnesota).
If you’re a female (or male) job seeker, here are some tips to help you get the highest salary you can.
- Enter salary negotiations armed with information. There is no single source of data out there that can tell you exactly what level of pay you’re entitled to, but a good place to start is Minnesota’s Salary Survey. This survey offers salary data for 800+ different occupations. Read this recent post for more information on what salary data can and can’t tell you.
- When asking for a raise, focus on why you deserve a raise, not why you need one. Women sometimes make the mistake of appealing to emotion or sympathy during salary negotiations. But the fact that your family needs more money or your bills are piling up is (usually) irrelevant to your boss. Instead, bring evidence and specific examples about how you’ve improved the company’s bottom line or supported the team’s mission.
- Know your rights. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits, among other things, pay discrimination on the basis of gender. Employers are not allowed to pay men and women different amounts for doing the same work. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 states that each new unequal paycheck is a new instance of discrimination. This means if you’ve been working for lower wages than your male co-workers for years, it may be easier for you to challenge the discriminatory pay structure. If you believe your employer is paying you an unfair wage because of your gender, start by contacting the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
- Recognize that “male” and “female” occupations may not really be all that different. We all tend to limit our career choices to occupations that are “acceptable” for our gender. You don’t see many male nurses or female engineers. But it’s important to recognize that in many traditionally male and female dominated jobs, skill requirements are more similar than you might expect. For example, the skill profiles of Registered Nurses (92% female) and Civil Engineers (11% female) are quite similar. So don’t limit your options because of stereotypes; instead, research occupations to see what they’re really like.
- You might not need to trade higher pay for a flexible schedule. Many women assume that the only way to combine work and family is to take a part-time or temporary job, which is likely to pay less than a full-time job. The reality is, high-skilled, high wage jobs are much more likely to offer paid time off, flexible work schedules, or the ability to work from home and other family-friendly benefits. This fact sheet summarizes sociological research on this topic and debunks myths about balancing work and family.
Looking for more information about gender and work, nontraditional employment for women, or related topics? Check out ISEEK’s nontraditional careers section.