There’s no being coy about salary anymore. But a slew of efforts to make compensation more transparent is really just about to confirm what women already know: They rarely are being paid their worth.
In May, New York will force employers to disclose minimum and maximum salary or hourly wages on job descriptions and advertisements. Meanwhile, Americans are quitting jobs in record numbers, and employers are engaging in bidding wars (offer, counteroffer, counter to the counteroffer, repeat) for talent. That’s ironic because workers also say they care more about purpose than their paychecks, that they’re willing to take less money for jobs offering work-life balance.
A just-released Luminary Indeed survey confirms that salary is in the midst of upheaval: 60% of women cite compensation as one of their greatest sources of dissatisfaction, and 41% of women don’t advocate for themselves.
There’s a reason for laying low. Women who fight for their value and self-worth can be considered pushy, aggressive, even hard to work with. The survey found that nearly three-quarters of respondents believe women who self-advocate are perceived more negatively than men who do.
I confess I’ve watched the demand for transparency with some skepticism: I moved around a lot in my career, partly because the only way to make more was to jump ship. As a manager, I was conditioned to evaluate compensation based on what someone could command in the marketplace versus pricing for roles and responsibilities. And while employers have started to add salary information to job postings, it’s an open secret that they often can go much higher “for the right person.”
Thus, the goal for women now, says Luminary’s founder and CEO Cate Luzio, is to be that person. Luminary, a global women’s networking business that conducted the survey of 2,100 people between the ages of 21 and 64, helps women advocate for themselves through mentoring, training, and programs.
To be most effective, Luzio suggests women focus on these four Rs:
“You have to make a business case around why I deserve more money,” says Luzio. “Men say I deserve X. Women say I need X.”
Luzio challenged the slow pace of change around pay equity. Like moving around to make more money?
“Why should I have to do that?” Luzio says. “If my company values me so much, why should I have to leave?” Another excuse she often hears from companies: “You can’t make this big a jump for this many employees at once.”
To that, she says: “Why not?”
Indeed, the onus of workplace equity is falling on employers. In a book released last week, author and Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani says many women advocate to advance their careers only to discover what she calls “The Big Lie,” that they cannot outperform entrenched forces and systems. We “participate in a workforce and live in a society that do not make ‘having it all’ actually possible,” she writes in Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work. (Read Charter's full briefing on the book here.) “What if, instead of trying to fix ourselves with more leadership advice about self care and negotiating strategies, we asked our workplaces to step up? What do employers have to do with perpetuating gendered dynamics in the home? Far more than you might think.”
In an interview the morning after attending the book launch, Luzio lauded this characterization, but says women who count on salary transparency to miraculously deliver results will be sorely disappointed. “It needs to be a push/pull–companies pull their women up, and employees push forward and self-advocate,” she says.
The quest for salary equity comes against a pandemic that has prompted many workers to reassess their priorities. Maybe they don’t want the top job after all. “It’s okay. Not everyone wants to be the next girl boss,” Luzio says. “Everyone has to create their own version of the definition of success.”
The biggest factor preventing women from advocating for themselves? More than half, or 59%, cited shyness and anxiety.
In a sign of greater understanding toward workers, especially women, LinkedIn recently added 13 ways to describe gaps on a resume, from bereavement to parenting to caregiving. This is another area that employers, who often docked the salaries of re-entering workers, are being increasingly mindful of. Some companies, such as Audible, offer “returnship” programs for people who have been absent from the workforce. Other employers are working to change their own culture and turn to consultants like Leslie Forde, who runs Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, a company that helps change work practices to be more supportive and friendly to caregivers.
“Caregiving isn't just part of the human condition, it's a professional asset,” says Forde. “Several studies show that skills parents gain at home translate into greater emotional intelligence and problem-solving at work...women are overwhelmingly the decision makers for most consumer products. And our voices are essential for businesses that want to innovate and win in the marketplace.”