How YOU can help close the gender pay gap

By Aubrey Bach, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Higher Education at PayScale

The release of PayScale’s new report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, takes a deep dive into how factors like job type, career paths, leadership, and marriage and family status affect and are affected by gender pay inequity. As I poured through the data and decided what to write about, it was the facts that didn’t surprise me that were the most frustrating, like the fact that women’s salaries level off by age 35, while men see salary growth until age 55. Why, in the year 2015, am I still having to sum up salary data from 1.4 million respondents with the following bullet points?

  • Yes, the gender pay gap is real, even when you compare men and women working the same jobs and controlling for experience, education, location, and other compensable factors.
  • Men dominate the highest-paying job types and industries.
  • Men move into management earlier and more frequently than women.
  • The gender pay gap increases as you climb the corporate ladder.
  • The gender pay gap is wider for women who are married and/or have children.

The grim details of report can be found at And while understanding the reality of the pay gap is the first step, the equally important next step is thinking about what we do with the data. Yes, more companies, especially tech giants, are finally announcing parental leave policies that support working parents – even Amazon just announced innovative new paternal leave policies for all full-time workers, including warehouse employees. And yes, politicians are finally proposing legislation that may actually make an impact in pay equity. But if we want to eliminate the gender pay gap, the effort has to come from individuals as well as large organizations. So, regardless of gender, employer, job title, location or anything else, here are five things anybody who wants to help close the gender pay gap can do to actually move the needle:

1. Educate yourself. Knowing that the gender pay gap exists isn’t enough. If you really want to make a difference, you need to know how your pay compares to your peers. It’s not exactly comfortable, or reliable, to simply poll your co-workers about their salary, so PayScale offers resources for employees to benchmark their salaries and for employers to set their compensation on real-time market data. Only 19 percent of women and 22 percent of men told us that they understand how their employer sets pay. Increased pay transparency enables employees and employers to have more open and honest conversations about pay, identify inequities that may exist in their organizations, and advocate for pay equality.

2. Negotiate. It’s well known that women don’t negotiate as often as men do, and that they ask for less when they do. Since women who advocate for themselves are the exception to the rule, they are often viewed negatively by co-workers of both genders, even when they do get the raise or promotion they ask for. However, the only way to normalize an action is to do it more often. If you are a woman, and you are being underpaid, advocating for fair pay won’t just help your bank account, it can actually make it easier for every other woman who is underpaid around you to do the same. So if you need help overcoming any fears you have around negotiating, think about the fact that you are actually doing every other working woman a huge favour.

3. Start the conversation. When Bradley Cooper announced that he would share salary information with female co-stars after reading Jennifer Lawrence’s essay on her own experience with pay inequity, he didn’t just prove that he really is a nice guy, he set a precedent for how we should all approach conversations about pay. No, you don’t need to send your wage and salary information to all of your co-workers, but you should be able to have open conversations about pay with your managers, and bring up issues you see in your company, whether it’s pay inequity with your direct reports, or a lack of female leadership on the executive team, or a lack of resources to support working parents. By having these conversations, you can make it easier for your employer to achieve real pay transparency.

4. State your goals. Nobody is going to know what you want if you don’t say what that is, and this is especially true in the workplace. If you are gunning to move up the ladder, speak up, especially with people who can help make that happen. Meet regularly with your manager about your career goals, and ask for feedback about what you need to do to achieve them. This is true whether you want to go into management or not. Paths for individual contributors are often less clear-cut than managerial paths, so it’s even more important that you discuss your career goals openly.

5. Use your power. Women are great at asking for mentorship. But, as Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, the term ‘mentor’ is often too ambiguous and ill-defined to produce real results. If you want a leadership role, you need a sponsor. Find a man or woman in your company with the power to advocate on your behalf. This isn’t just asking for approval – it will require hard work and proving that she or he should indeed go to bat for you. But it’s the fastest way to achieve your goals. And if you are in a position of power and think that your company needs more women in leadership, use your sway to make that happen.

This article first appeared at LinkedIn Pulse.