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April 4, 2017, was Equal Pay Day. The Equal Pay Act, which requires that men and women get equal pay for equal work, was enacted in 1963, more than 50 years ago. Yet, women in the United States earn an average of 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. And the wage disparity is worse for women of color and Hispanic women.


To start, women need to understand how certain attitudes and behaviors may be hurting us.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, found that women are less self-assured than men and that, to succeed in the workplace, confidence matters as much as competence. Digging deeper, they found that men, even if they have doubts about their ability to do a job, do not let their doubts stop them as often as women do.

How does lowered confidence play out at work? Kay and Shipman learned that women apply for promotions only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men apply when they meet 50 percent. This brings to mind the adage: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I have also heard another take on this that I like better: “Fake it ‘til you make it and between, make sure you learn it.”

One of the best ways to “learn it” is to surround yourself with people who are smarter and more skilled than you. I have observed that successful people seek out challenges, take risks, and are confident that they will figure out what they need to learn along the way. When I started my business over 15 years ago, one of my mentors advised me to do something that scared me. I chose to take an acting class. I was awful at it and my voice broke every time I got up on stage, but getting through it reminded me that I could face my fears and plug on. That experience guided me through building my business.

But it’s not just confidence that women lack. When women do get up the nerve to apply for a promotion, they are not as savvy as men about salary negotiations. Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Women Don’t Ask, found that men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women do, and that when women negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money than men do. The good news is that negotiation skills can be learned. The bad news is that studies indicate that when women negotiate for higher salaries, people react more negatively than they would toward a man asking for more money.

How should women approach asking for a raise?

  • Do research, on websites like,, or, to determine what your job is worth.
  • Increase your value to your company by taking on additional responsibility and building relationships with internal and external customers.
  • Learn the company culture and play by their rules. This may mean staying late, coming in early, learning to play golf, or limiting conversations about your family and outside demands.
  • Accept praise and blow your own horn. Years ago, I ran a mentoring group for women at a Fortune 500 company. Fifty of the company’s most successful women sat in a large group and introduced themselves. Afterwards, one of the women commented that she was struck by the fact that not one woman had given her title, but rather, had described what she did. Men would have introduced themselves by their titles.
  • When you do ask for a raise, list your accomplishments and the results that you obtained for the company.

What can companies do to level the playing field?

One best practice is to implement a “no negotiations” policy on salary and raises. Many forward-thinking companies conduct regular salary audits to assess and correct internal gender and other pay differences. Building in greater transparency regarding salary allows women to advocate for pay equity. About half of all companies prohibit or strongly discourage their employees from discussing pay with co-workers. Rather, companies can consider publishing salaries and salary bands, along with clear explanations of position requirements. And human resource professionals can take the lead by asking female employees if they feel as comfortable as men when it comes to asking for professional support and raises. I am curious…what practices have you experienced that have helped reduce wage disparity between men and women?


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