Women are empowered to speak about sex-based pay gap

Women face an uphill battle to reverse the gender pay gap that continues to define compensation for the American workforce, says Ann-Marie Ahern, a Principal and Employment Law Specialist at McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman.

In fact, a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that women in management face even greater sex-based pay disparity than women who work in non-managerial roles.

Overall, the gender pay gap in September 2015 was listed at 78.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It goes all the way to the top,” Ahern says. “Female CEOs are paid less than male CEOs. And up until recently, people didn’t talk about it.”

But that is changing. Ahern believes that the public attention surrounding the Lilly Ledbetter case and the subsequent equal pay legislation in 2009 elevated the issue into a national discussion.

Another significant factor, Ahern believes, was the 2013 publication of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” The book brought the topic into the mainstream and has given credibility to women who speak out about this issue.

“There has been a paradigm shift as it relates to women feeling comfortable asserting their rights and being more forceful about taking their place at the table,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Ahern about what can be done to continue to bridge the gender pay gap.

What are some of the root causes behind the pay gap?
At least one reason women continue to lag behind is because they start off from behind. At the onset of an employment relationship, women often feel that to negotiate salary will be viewed as lacking gratitude for the opportunity they have been given.

There is a fear that they won’t be seen as a team player right from the start. The perception that women who are assertive are pushy, while men who share the same trait are aggressive, influences the way communications regarding salary requirements can be perceived. Of course, some companies simply don’t value the services of women equally to those of men.

But, some factors are within the control of female employees. A study of MBA candidates found that men were more comfortable and more likely to negotiate salary than women, who typically accepted jobs at the first salary offered.

As those women climb the corporate ladder, the disparity in wages compounds year over year, creating a significant disparity in pay over time.

What are some tips to strengthen your negotiating position as a woman?
When you’re applying for a new job or new opportunity, know what the market rate is for the position you are seeking. Arm yourself with information that you can use to justify your expectations.

Don’t use your current salary as a floor. If you’re going to make a move and take a risk, it should be for increased pay. Employers typically won’t start at what they’re willing to pay because they expect that the salary is going to be negotiated. If you don’t get the salary you want, negotiate bonuses that are based on the attainment of objective criteria.

Tie your compensation to performance to eliminate risk and potentially benefit your employer. Pursue growth roles that allow you to expand your scope of expertise and take on new challenges. Be aggressive and don’t settle for what fits your comfort zone.

What legal remedies are available to confront sex-based pay discrimination?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on a number of things, including gender.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 amended the law to state that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by the discriminatory action. Ohio also has a statute with similar remedies that applies to smaller employers of four or more employees.

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