Addressing the pay gap is complex. Reaching wage parity means tackling a long history of cultural norms, gender roles and other factors that for most women can feel overwhelming — especially when we're doing our constant best just to juggle the day-to-day demands of our work, kids, aging parents and so much more. But there are things we can do as individuals to chip away at the gap. For starters — getting paid what we are worth… plus tax — a challenge that for most means overcoming some pretty heady feelings of guilt and even fear.
More money means more power and from a historical perspective, it's not so surprising that fighting for this power can be frightening. As women, there's an understanding in our collective unconscious that over time we have been punished for speaking up, for taking up space, for assuming positions of authority, for being powerful.
So ladies, here’s the truth. There is no way around it. Fighting to earn up to your potential is going to get uncomfortable. And you’re going to have to be okay with the fact that asking for more — whether you’re raising your rates or requesting a raise — may make the person on the other side of the table a bit uncomfortable, too. But there are some tactical things you can do to prepare. The first — determine your number. Go in with an informed, realistic target for what you deserve to be paid. Below is an excerpt from my new book, “Women with Money,” on getting paid what you are worth … plus tax.
First, get clear on your number. Deciding you want to earn more but not how much more is a little like deciding you’re going to run a race but not settling on whether it’s going to be a 5K or a half marathon. You can base that number on external factors or internal ones. Looking outside yourself means doing research (on sites like PayScale.com, Glassdoor.com, or Salary.com) on what people with your skills and experience earn. Job postings that specify what they’re paying when bringing in new candidates with your skills can be similarly helpful.
Or you could—gulp— ask someone.
More women than ever (thank you, millennials) are comfortable sharing how much they earn with friends and colleagues. Meredith Rollins, the former editor of Redbook magazine, told a story on my podcast of how—when she was promoted to take the helm of that magazine—she sat down with the woman who would be moving into her job and coached her on just how much she should be asking for.
Mika Brzezinski talked on the podcast (you are listening to the podcast, aren’t you?) about how she’s negotiating with some of the new hires at NBC to be sure they’re fairly paid. “I am personally taking them by the hand down to the front office,” she says, explaining, “I know what I get paid. I know how long I’ve worked for it. I have insight. What you need is a voice and maybe a friend and a sense of your value.” Those three things, she says, are all it takes to get the job done. I’ve done the same with some of the newer, younger personal finance experts on the scene—coaching how much to ask for a speech or a blog post. It feels great to pay it forward.
It also helps to have a sense of how much you’re contributing to the bottom line. In early 2018, Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo gave an interview to the Hollywood Reporter in which she revealed just how hard it was for her to ask for more money. She had been told by the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes (who also spoke to the magazine), “Decide what you think you’re worth and then ask for what you think you’re worth. Nobody’s just going to give it to you.” But Pompeo worried about seeming “too greedy.”
Then she learned that the show where she’s had top billing for fourteen years had made $3 billion for Disney. “When your face and your voice have been part of something that’s generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, ‘OK, maybe I do deserve a piece of this.’ ” Her new $20 million contract made her the highest-paid woman on dramatic television.
The other way to approach the question of your number is internally. It’s a question of not just what you need to earn but what you want to earn to create the life you really want. Think concretely: Not what would life look like if I could earn this much more. But what will life look like when I start earning this much more. The first is a wish. The second, an intention. And be specific about what it’s for. A house in a neighborhood that would give you a shorter commute? Padding for your retirement account to ease your anxiety? A foreign trip once a year? Private school for the kids? A wardrobe upgrade? The ability to give more away? There’s no right or wrong, so don’t judge yourself.
That’s how Robin Arzon does it. A former corporate lawyer, Arzon has over the past seven years built herself into a health and fitness brand, becoming the head coach for Peloton, which streams cycling
classes into thousands of homes every day. When she’s thinking about how much to charge for a business opportunity, Arzon spends some time “really just thinking about how I want to feel in my security ten or twenty years from now,” she said. And once she comes up with that price? Arzon says: Add tax. “Whether you are a freelancer, entrepreneur, business owner, or stay‑at‑home parent, know your worth, then add tax.” Tax, by the way, is not just the amount freelancers should be adding because they’re going to have to pay it to the government come April (hint, hint). Tax is your innate value. It’s different from the hourly price you put on your time. It’s the premium for your participation, for the energy you’re putting into this project, for the idea that strikes you (you know, the one you jot down in the journal you keep by your bed) in the middle of the night. It’s a little something extra because when you’re in, you’re all in.
I’ve gotta say: I love that idea.
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