The Salary Gap: What We Can Do About It

Mind the Gap

According to an October 3rd, 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review: Closing the Gender Wealth Gap by Nicole Torres, the trend of companies to do little to nothing in closing the gender pay gap continues. “In the United States, women who work year-round earn somewhere near 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.  But they only own about 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by men. Both of these gaps are far more acute for black and Latina women.” 

This article isn’t about companies indiscriminately raising the pay of women in mass to the same as men as not all experience, education, certifications, etc., are the same. It is about analyzing where the disparities are occurring. Take one of my clients, we will call her Sara. Sara works for a Fortune 500 company, holds a coveted certification that none of the men in her department possess but is required for many in her job, has a specialized and related degree that her fellow employees lack, is the go-to for challenging clients which results in overbooking of her schedule, has a stellar set of performance reviews, and has been in this department for 15+ years (longer than most of the other employees), and yet, still gets paid $30,000 less than her counterparts. Thus, why she is working with me. 

The company (including HR) doesn’t care about the inconsistency, nor does her management chain. She is just told “that is the way it is, you accepted the pay we gave you earlier” and “it was your choice to get that certification.” Really, do these particular HR and management personnel live in reality? No, they don’t, but if they analyze her pay discrepancy, they must look at all of their employees. The only thing that will force this organization to do so is a lawsuit, and it can’t be from a lone employee, it must come from many within the organization. The men in her department back her up, have asked that she be paid appropriately commensurate with her experience, skill, education and certification, and openly offered up their salaries to her for proof of the issue. These men are truly backing her up. But to no avail.

Another female client holds two certifications a large company had advertised as either “necessary or desired” in their ad, but offered her nearly $60,000 less than others in the organization without certifications. The one female employee she interviewed with stated she was embarrassed by the offer, but there was nothing she could do. The man (the manager) who interviewed her spent half the interview disparaging her experience and education, and then made her the insulting offer. Wouldn’t want to negatively impact that annual management bonus with a fairly paid employee, now would we? She turned them down. While she needed a job, she didn’t need that type of environment. 

I thank my lucky stars every day that my parents taught me I could do anything I put my mind to, and to never accept discrimination of any type. My wonderful husband instills this same belief in me to this day. So, blessedly this has not happened to me, but it has happened to too many of my clients, and that is why I have three specialized employment attorneys that I provide as a referral when necessary. 

What can we do to stop this, both men and women? First, awareness, by knowing it exists, and working to root it out. Second, ban the asking of prior and current salary. This is only used to discriminate in the salary offer phase against any potential employee, regardless of gender.  A question of “salary desired” is more than enough to give a company the proper information about your pay requirements, while the interview, talking with references, and confirmation of credentials, if necessary, gives more context on appropriate pay rate. Third, perhaps employees should start getting together where they feel a gap exists, and talk about tenure, performance reviews and salary expectations within their company. It doesn’t mean that people must tell or show others what they are paid. However, it does mean where someone sees an imbalance, they make it known to the person negatively impacted (and this isn’t always women, sometimes it is a man). Fourth, ask for appropriate salary. Do your research and know what your industry pays. Be willing to turn down or leave a job that won’t pay appropriately. Lastly, some class action lawsuits may be necessary. As much as I hate the idea of litigation, sometimes it is the only way to get a lasting change.  

Many a company around the country has been sued regarding job titles and their salary rates, resulting in compensation analysis and the awarding of back pay to employees.  Some companies just change the job titles of employees so they can get away with low-paying of their staff, to potentially sell their company (this always looks good on the books), and/or hopefully avoid a lawsuit. This is something that impacts men and women, is the potential subject of another blog post, and is merely the reverse side of the same coin concerning inequitable salary.  There is also some irony in my opening of an article this morning on, from EREMedia: Before You Decide Pay Raises, Do a Pay Fairness Audit by Kathleen McLeod Caminiti and Sarah Wieselthier.  

Know your value and don’t be afraid to ask for more in the salary negotiation phase, regardless of what they offer you initially. If you don’t ask, you will never know if you could have gotten more money. Show them proof of salary research based on your true years of experience (not cobbled together, but actual length of unquestionably related experience – your biggest selling point). Use several of the free salary tools online to create a balanced report based on your industry, state and city, education/certifications/training, and years of experience. This includes what their company typically pays as is often provided via a search. If you feel lost in doing this type of task, or have difficulty identifying your true experience and value, contact a resume writer or career coach with experience in this area, who can help you.

Before you ever walk into an interview (or do a phone interview), you should understand the benefits you can bring to an organization, and know the bonus skills and experience you provide that might be of additional advantage.  Do your research and find out everything you can in the interview about their culture. Get a tour of the facility, meet other employees and find out tenure rates (particularly in the department where you will work), and take your time, don’t be rushed into a decision. Any company that demands you accept or reject their job offer while sitting in the interview chair is a company that will treat you poorly. ASK QUESTIONS – never let an interviewer tell you to hold your questions until the end of the interview as you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. If you do your due diligence from the moment you start a job search, chances are, you will find a job that is satisfying, that won’t cause your heart to sink every Sunday evening, or stress you out 24/7.

In closing, money isn’t everything. If you chase it, there will never be enough. If that is all you want in your job, you will never be satisfied or happy. Besides, what we really need and what we want are often very different. You must view the whole picture, not just a part of it. Wonderful colleagues, a great boss, good benefits, a decent commute, feeling like your work makes a difference, enjoying the work you do, and being treated as a person not a “resource,” can beat a high salary any day of the week! 

Karen Silins is a multi-certified, award winning resume writer, career, business and personal branding coach working with individuals and small businesses. After graduating with degrees in education and vocal performance, she made her own career transition into the Human Resources realm. Karen left Human Resources to become an entrepreneur and help jobseekers, executives and fellow entrepreneurs achieve their goals. She keeps current regarding trends in the resume writing, coaching, HR, small business and marketing industries by working daily with individual clients on resume development and career coaching, executive/career management coaching, consulting for small businesses in business plan development, marketing, blogging, hiring and overall HR processes, and providing 20-50+ seminars and workshops annually to a variety of organizations in the greater Kansas City area. She can be reached via her website at