The pay gap hasn’t budged in a decade. Women make up the majority of our nation’s workforce (New York Times, "Women Now a Majority in American Workplaces," Feb. 5, 2010), yet among full-time, year-round employees, we earn just 78 percent of what men are paid (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, "The Gender Wage Gap", 2013). It shouldn’t be surprising: while we comprise more than half of the U.S. population, we account for fewer than one-fourth of the 5,500 witnesses who testified before U.S. House committees in the 113th Congress (Sunlight Foundation, Sept. 9, 2014). With just one woman among 20 incoming GOP House chairmen, it’s unlikely we’ll reach pay equity via political means in the next two years.
Here are steps you can take now to contribute to your own success and narrow the wage gap:
1. Look for greatness in other women. Your potential grows in equal proportion to the potential you are able to see in others. When one woman succeeds, it’s important to receive and acknowledge her achievement. It builds your rapport with other women, who face many of the same challenges that you do. The more you practice this, the better you get at it. How you treat others is a pure reflection of how you see yourself. When we elevate ourselves, we grow in our confidence to affect change.
2. Separate business from personal matters. There is no need to provide a personal update at the beginning of a meeting. While there’s nothing wrong with getting to know your colleagues personally, there is a time for business and a time for social conversation. You want people to associate you with your business acumen, not your children’s extra-curricular activities.
Women know the danger of collapsing business and social matters better than most, because we’re often judged on our appearance. At an event with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, President Obama introduced her as the “best-looking attorney general in the country.” Harris later spoke about such comments and the flurry of dialogue they incite as “distraction from the work we do” and urged women not to let themselves be distracted. It’s great advice.
3. Tap your own limitless potential. The level of your results is an exact match with the level of investment you make in yourself. So you must grow in your awareness of what you do well and what you’d like to improve. Invest in yourself by partnering with a skilled coach or mentor who sees your blind spots and can guide you in identifying opportunities and removing barriers.
To win equal pay, we must see ourselves as equals in the workplace and display confidence that shows it.
4. Distinguish a business mindset. A growing number of women are the breadwinners in their families. For those without a back-up source of income, there isn’t much room for “playing” at, or dabbling in, business: every interaction matters. For these women especially, success and equal pay are a necessity.
Focus your language on the results you want. Do you speak about debt or abundance? Problems or opportunities? The words you use are the seeds you sow, and they create the results you harvest. Speak in bullet points. You don’t need to tell the whole story. Develop a list of 3-5 messages when you speak to people in a business context. It helps you prepare what you plan to say, and it will make what you share more memorable for others. As you continue to grow in these areas, the by-product is business savvy and confidence, which will make it easier for you to tackle the next step in this list.
5. Ask for equality. Most women agree that conversations about salary are among the most difficult in the workplace. To achieve equal pay with men, we must ask for equality individually, and then work in concert with other women more broadly. When we speak our own truth and ask for what we want, we also are speaking for women who have not yet found their voices.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillbrand would agree. She has said that, although women were largely responsible for getting President Obama elected, we haven’t asked him for anything. The male majority in American politics doesn’t have an incentive to close the wage gap. We must support female candidates and work together to ask for what we want.
When we grow our confidence, take action individually and work together as women, we can narrow the wage gap in this decade. The time to begin is now.
Leslie Flowers is an author, presenter and adviser who empowers people to tap their genuine inspiration, plan for success and achieve their fullest potential. She works with entrepreneurs, team leaders and executives to identify values, build high-performance teams, reach consensus on strategy, and more. For more information, visit Leslie Flowers on LinkedIn or her website.