Activists concerned about equal pay for equal work hailed the re-election of President Obama, saying they no longer have to worry about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being repealed. During the campaign, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan criticized the bill, saying it "was not an equal pay law" and was instead "about opening up the lawsuits."
Though the Ledbetter law gives women more time to pursue legal action for unequal pay, many wonder why women, on average, make less than men. There are many theories out there, but one thing is for sure: The lower your salary when you begin your career, the harder it is to catch up.
Negotiations Are Critical
A new experiment, published in a paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that men are more likely to negotiate their starting salary than women. However, there is one big exception. If women are told the salary is negotiable, not only did the gap evaporate, but women did better than men in asking for a bigger paycheck.
In the experiment, researchers placed real advertisements for administrative assistant jobs in nine U.S. cities. Those who replied were randomly chosen to receive one of two responses from the employer.
Both thanked the prospective employee for their interest, apologized if they had any unanswered questions, and told them a little bit more about the job, including the hourly salary. However, one of the replies had the word "negotiable" next to the hourly wage.
When not explicitly told the salary was negotiable, men negotiated for a higher salary 29 percent more frequently than women. When it was clear the salary was negotiable, both sexes negotiated much more, but women actually negotiated 9 percent more frequently than men.
"When the rules of wage determination are concrete, women are more likely to negotiate," study co-author Andreas Leibbrandt of Australia's Monash University told NBC News.
Why Won't Women Negotiate?
One author says its ingrained in women to be grateful for the job offer. Victoria Pynchon is a Los Angeles consultant who coaches women on asking for better pay. She says women worry if they ask for more money, the job offer will be withdrawn. Women are taught, says Pynchon, that "if a woman asks for something for herself, she's likely to be punished."
Her tips for asking for a better salary:
1) Figure out fair market value for the job. Use salary comparison sites.
2) Ask for more than you want.
3) Psych yourself up for the salary conversation. Pynchon says "tell yourself it's not a game, it's a conversation leading to an agreement."
4) Don't wait to be told you're "allowed" to negotiate your salary. Assume that it's expected.