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.

2 thoughts on “What Women Need to Know about Salaries

  1. I’ve been an electrical engineer for twenty years and I’ve found the data showing low female representation to be a constant source of frustration. We in the engineering field only have about a 12% female representation. This should be intolerable, but people are either unable or unwilling to change it. Personally, I believe it’s caused by a an interaction between government policy and private industry. Or, to put it more succinctly, the military-industrial-corporate complex purpetuates a militaristic male-dominated culture which presents itself as hostile to females (and other “non-conforming” individuals). Interestingly, engineers are highly educated. But there’s a catch: they are steeped in technical education, but severly lacking in a liberal arts education. Most engineers I know deplore liberal arts…for one thing it has the word “liberal” in it which reminds them of political liberals, whom the eschew (although they don’t seem to understand that conservatives also study liberal arts). Politically, they detest big government (ostensibly…they love to take advantage of social programs), and they have no use for liberal arts. Now, they’ll tell you that they love going to plays with their wives, or to the orchestra, or maybe they sing in the choir. But this does not substitute for a liberal arts education. The fact that they are not required to study liberal arts in college has a profound impact which cannot be understated: it robs them of there identity. Plato’s maxim to “know thyself” seems appropriate enough. They don’t really understand their place in society and how to react to the complexities of the media, politics, and events around them. Without a solid understanding of histoy, they are vulnerable to despotism. We have seen this played out by their migration to the suburbs, (which has a multitude of social ills), by their indoctrination into radical movements (right-wing evangelism, Focus on the Family, etc), and a lack of interest in the general welfare (just read their blogs). It’s a very subtle thing, almost impossible to describe, and the most difficult to extricate, but engineers have a sort of undercurrent of machismo that permiates every conversation. I think political historians might describe it as a “personal exceptionalism”, related to the exceptionalism of the U.S., meaning there’s hubris, a grandiosity that permiates their being. This is where a liberal arts education is extremely important. If they had read about Hitler (and I mean really understanding the world situation at that time), or the French Revolution (again, just knowing the name Napoleon does not suffice), studied and discussed P.B.Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”, or studied Julius Ceaser, they might have second thoughts about these attitudes. So, to summarize, what’s required to bring the gender representation to parity is a complete rethinking of our educational systems, especially as it relates to our position in the world as a military superpower.


  2. Your tips demonstrate why women are payed less, this is not a case of sexual discrimination.
    1. Women negotiate less for their income. I have never taken a job without negotiating more than their initial set salary.
    2. Women ask for raises less often. They expect to be given a raise when their work warrants it. If you don’t ask, you wont get.
    3. The Fair Pay Act does not allow the employer to reward a “go getter.” An employee that asks for raises and negotiated hard for a larger initial salary should be payed more since they will show the same passion towards customers.


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