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Career Advice

Pushing for equal pay: Everything you need to know

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated May 6, 2022
|11 min read
  • A gender pay gap exists, and even more alarming is the pay gap by race.
  • Pay transparency plays a key role in helping us reach gender equality in the workplace.
  • There are steps to take in becoming an ally and encouraging pay transparency.
  • Learn about the tools available to check your worth and how you can motivate others to do the same.

Understanding what the gender pay gap is and the causes of it are key steps toward achieving pay equity in the future — and we're here to help you understand everything you need to know about pushing for equal pay! This article will help you:

  • Understand what the gender pay gap is
  • Understand the importance of salary transparency
  • Provide tips to become an ally to women in the workplace and help ensure they receive equal pay for equal work
  • Recognize when you’re being underpaid in comparison to your colleagues
  • Provide tips for negotiating equal pay

Is there a gender pay gap?

The short answer is yes — especially for women of color. In the early 1960s, overt workplace biases towards women drove much of the gender pay inequity. Today, the main causes are far more subtle. 

Research and data show that outright discrimination likely isn’t the main cause of today’s overall gender pay gap (though it's still a contributing factor). 

Instead, the gender pay gap exists today due to things like the occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs (sometimes referred to as pink-collar jobs), and differences in years of experience (e.g. women leaving the workforce for caretaking obligations). 

Some people dismiss the gender pay gap altogether because some causes look “voluntary”. These include rationalizing that men pursue higher-paying jobs than women or saying that women opt to leave the job market. This rationale, however, is false. 

Women don’t necessarily opt into lower-paying jobs, and studies actually find that when women enter an occupation, the salaries drop for everyone, including men. And as for women leaving the job market, it’s not always voluntary.

This was especially prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic when women left the workforce in droves to care for their families and help their children with online learning. In fact, 100% of the job losses in December 2020 belonged to women.  

Even after non-discrimination factors are accounted for, the remaining 5.4 percent “adjusted” gender pay gap in the U.S. still remains and is a significant workplace problem all Americans should be concerned about. Even more alarming is the pay gap by race, with Latina and Native American women faring the worst. 

According to the Equal Pay Today Campaign:

  • American women earn 82 cents for each dollar their male counterparts earn.
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander women earn 85 cents on the dollar.
  • African American women earn 63 cents on the dollar.
  • Native American women earn 60 cents on the dollar.  
  • Latina American women earn 57 cents on the dollar.
What American women earn for each dollar their main counterparts earn represented by stacked coins

Understanding pay transparency to reduce the gender pay gap

What policies can best address the gender pay gap? One solution may be to promote greater pay transparency in the workplace — something that new rules proposed by the White House aim to accomplish. Other third-party research clearly shows that embracing salary transparency can help eliminate hard-to-justify gender pay gaps in the workplace. Without access to pay data for specific job titles at specific companies, it’s easy to understand how gender inequities could persist undetected for years on employer payrolls. 

As America works towards gender equality in the workplace, pay transparency plays an important role in helping traverse the last mile toward full equality in male-female earnings in the workplace and making sure everyone gets equal pay for equal work. 

Salary transparency drives accountability    

Glassdoor CEO Christian Sutherland-Wong captured radical transparency as a means for equity. “Our vision is for a world where transparency ensures everyone is treated and paid fairly irrespective of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or any other factor. Our vision is for a world where transparency holds companies accountable and motivates them to become better employers. Our vision is that transparency changes the world so that everyone loves their job.” 

In 2020, Glassdoor moved one step closer to our goal of radical transparency. We revealed salary ranges for every role at our company and disclosed the specific salary for Glassdoor’s senior executive team

“Increasing transparency is critical for employees and job seekers to make informed career decisions and help ensure pay equity.  It is why we reaffirmed our commitment to providing greater transparency. . . We are leaning into our strengths and pushing ahead to unlock information that shines a brighter light on culture, diversity & inclusion, and our own business performance alongside compensation.” Sutherland-Wong shares.

In 2017, Glassdoor interviewed Lilly Ledbetter, an important figure in pay equity. Ledbetter worked as an area manager at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama, for nearly 20 years. She was near retirement when she learned, via an anonymous tip, that she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts over the entire course of her career with Goodyear. She sued the company, and ultimately her case went to the Supreme Court.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was President Barack Obama’s first piece of legislation. Ledbetter explained to Glassdoor why equal pay is so important. “Women are still underpaid. When women get behind, it is a snowball effect because your raises are percentages of what you’re earning if your wages start low. That keeps them lower than they should. You can’t catch up. It also affects your retirement because if a company has retirement benefits, it’s based on what you’re earning, your 401K, or whatever the retirement plan is based on what you’re earning matched by a percentage. Of course, social security is based on what a person earns. When you’re short-changed like I was and so many other people across this nation, it’s for the rest of your life.”

How others can be allies 

Pay transparency means everyone participates in sharing their salaries, particularly men who tend to be paid more than their counterparts doing the same work. There is nothing wrong or shameful about earning a high salary, but pay secrecy hurts women and minorities and can make it difficult for employees to negotiate better pay (and the pay they likely deserve). The best way to be an ally is to encourage and participate in pay transparency. Talk to your HR department about listing salary ranges for positions and highlighting to them how pay transparency can be a great recruiting and retention tool.

How to know if you’re being underpaid

Glassdoor research reveals that the average American is being underpaid by 13 percent because many candidates (~60%) accept the first offer presented to them without negotiating for a better deal. More women than men accept the initial salary offer, with 33% of employed women saying they accepted their salary for their most recent position without negotiating, compared to 29% of employed men. A study conducted by George Mason University and Temple University found that being underpaid and failing to negotiate salary can cost an employee $600,000 over the course of their career.

Remember that salary secrecy keeps pay inequality persistent. But using the right tools and gathering enough information, you can create a strategy to ensure that you’re paid fairly for the work you do. Here are four ways to help you do just that.

1. Check your employer's and prospective employer’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion metrics on Glassdoor

Glassdoor's Diversity & Inclusion Products help employees and job candidates see their employers' and prospective employers’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) metrics. According to Glassdoor research, 76% of job seekers and employees identify a diverse workforce as an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. To help provide deeper insight into the diversity, equity, and inclusion at a company, Glassdoor has developed three key product features:

Diversity & inclusion rating 

Glassdoor’s workplace factor rating enables employees to rate how satisfied they are with diversity and inclusion at their current or former company based on a 5-point scale. The rating appears alongside the five existing workplace factor ratings.

Employees & job seekers can now voluntarily share demographic information 

Using demographic contributions, Glassdoor now displays company ratings, workplace factor ratings, salary reports, and more, broken out by specific groups at specific companies. This information will equip employers with further data and insights to create and sustain a more equitable workplace.

Diversity FAQ across companies

Diversity FAQ provides easier access to relevant reviews about D&I at specific companies. “Job seekers and employees today really care about equity, and for too long they’ve lacked access to the information needed to make informed decisions about the companies that are or are not truly inclusive . . . By increasing transparency around diversity and inclusion within companies, we can help create more equitable companies and a more equitable society, too.” Sutherland-Wong shares.

2. Encourage your company to do a pay transparency self-audit

Encourage your employer to commit to equitable pay by conducting a self-audit, and lead the effort if you’re in a position to do so. It stands to bolster the corporate brand, ensure equity, and increase retention. 

"Today, the gender pay gap is more than a social or legal issue. It’s an issue that can affect the ability of employers to attract and retain talent.”

Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor Chief Economist

Organizations can talk a good game, but which ones are stepping up to the plate to pay everyone fairly and offer benefits that support all employees? Take a look at the benefits tab on any employer profile on Glassdoor and scroll down to see their values, benefits, and perks. Compare the company’s values to your own. 

Depending on your interests, ask yourself questions like do they offer adequate maternity and paternity leave? What do employees say about job training or diversity initiatives? Could those professional support tools help me get promoted? 

Glassdoor provides a step-by-step guide for conducting a gender pay gap audit. Your company’s results might be illuminating ― they certainly were for Glassdoor when we did our own pay check-up in 2020.

Transparency can be humbling and difficult, but when employee equity is at stake, it’s worth it. Sutherland-Wong explains, “We believe in the power of transparency. It may make us uncomfortable at times, but we can and should learn to work through that discomfort.”

3. Read through available salary reports

Check Glassdoor to learn what the average salary for your position is in your area, and read what current and former employees were paid in the past. For example, you can see that Delta flight attendants report making around $40,000 per year, while Southwest flight attendants report making $57,000 per year. Salary reports are a great way to arm yourself with the right knowledge to push for more money.

4. Read what others say about their interview and negotiating process

Getting insight into HR practices and how others interact with company hiring managers is helpful information for when you’re preparing to interview for a new job or negotiating at your current gig. After interviewing at Airbnb for a role as a customer experience specialist, one Oregon employee revealed, “The process took a few hours, was less scary than I’d worked myself for, and involved some role-playing, survival team-building scenarios, and short one-on-one interviews.” They then added an anecdote about the negotiation process, writing, “I know salary is set in stone and is competitive!”

How to advocate for yourself and negotiate an equitable salary

Being armed with data is great, and the feedback from others can be very helpful, but when you’re ready to negotiate for salary and need to know what to say, Glassdoor has you covered.

Get tangible advice

Check out our collection of articles dedicated to salary negotiation — how to make a case, what to say, what to wear, and even how to follow up if the negotiation doesn’t work in your favor. 

Don’t sell yourself short

A key cause of pay gaps within the same industry is that men tend to enter higher-paying roles than women. Studies have found women do not apply for a position unless they meet 100% of the qualifications. But many companies are willing to negotiate on which requirements listed are actually necessary, versus “nice-to-haves”. The next time you see a position posted on a job board that you think might be a stretch, don’t be afraid to apply — you may be more qualified than you think.

Know your rights

If you think discrimination might be holding you back from your full earning potential or advancing in your career, you may have grounds for a lawsuit (or at least a conversation with your HR department). Discrimination based on sex, race, religion, disability, or pregnancy are illegal under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Level up your skill set

Universities are great places to learn the skills that will serve as the foundation for your career, but they aren't the only places. Online courses, certificate programs, apprenticeships, and other similar programs can help you learn in-demand skills, often at a significantly lower cost than a college degree. If you find yourself drawn to a field, explore available resources to become more skilled in the required areas.

Know your worth

As you prepare for your next performance review or job interview, make sure you do your research to understand the range your salary should fall in. Look at what other similar professionals in your industry earn, and consider factors like where you live, and how many years of experience you have. 

Remember that if you were underpaid in a previous role, you don’t want to carry that deficit into your future roles. Rather than basing future salaries on past pay, get a fresh start by doing your research to learn the market value of your skills.

Negotiating your salary can sound intimidating, but it’s an important skill to have. Learn to be confident talking about compensation. Do your research and practice having the conversation. Recognize that talent is a hot commodity, and you’ve got it! Don’t sell yourself short. 

Are you ready to do your part in decreasing the pay gap? Join Glassdoor's salary transparency initiative by sharing your salary with Glassdoor users.