When we think gender equality in the workforce, we often think equal pay for women, equal consideration and opportunities for pay raises and promotions, even equal opportunities to get jobs in the first place.
But when it comes to securing those opportunities as a woman, some of it has to do with how we view and present ourselves. Advocating for yourself and what you want and deserve out of your career is key.
Kathy Downs, Senior Vice President with Robert Half Finance and Accounting, said first, when applying for positions, whether internally or externally with a new company, you have to go in prepared.
“By that, I mean, you know, what is the standard salary range for a job? Do the research on what the competitors are paying for this,” said Downs. “There’s a lot of resources on salary and benefits information. So go in informed, and don’t be shy on the initial ask of what is it that you’re looking for. You have to value yourself to be able to go in and get your best possible deal.”
If you’re applying for a position at a company you already work for, again, it comes down to being your best advocate by highlighting and pointing out all the great value that you’ve brought to the organization.
“What extra things have you done financially? Where have you impacted the business, whether it’s driving revenues, cost savings, development of a team that’s being productive, integrating a company that might have been acquired,” said Downs. “Know what your value is, and then make sure that everybody realizes what your contribution was. I think sometimes women are not as good at touting their accomplishments, so we need to do that.”
Downs pointed out women are doing much more during the pandemic than ever before in many cases. Continuing to work, whether it be from home or in the office, as well as having to help educate their children if they’re not at school face-to-face, meet the emotional needs as challenges arise and meeting the needs of their employers and co-workers, while not necessarily being able to see and work with them in the same space. These are all accomplishments to keep note of and track so that when it comes time to talk salary or a raise, you’re able to refer back to the value you’ve brought to your employer.
That value is important because women are paid 22.6% less than men with similar education and experience, according to the Economic Policy Institute. So Downs said when going into salary discussions, though it can be intimidating, it’s important to remember your worth.
“I think sometimes the person who speaks first puts the parameter on themselves, right? So if someone says, ‘Well, what are you looking for?’ Your response could very well be a question where you say, ‘What is the salary range for this position?’ And once you understand the range, then you can begin to explain why you should be someone who’s considered for the top end of that range,” said Downs. “If it’s something that you really want, and you want to show flexibility on the front side, go in and negotiate for a review, in a period of time where you think that you can prove yourself in the job and capture that top end of the range for yourself.”
Be confident in your request and then, Down said, remember silence is not the enemy.
“Let there be a void. Give that person a chance to answer. I think sometimes, we can get very uncomfortable when we ask for something with silence,” said Downs. “And silence is actually your friend, when you put a question out to somebody, give them a chance to answer you in full. Don’t respond and fill the time that they could be used answering you.”
When it comes to employers retaining top female talent, Downs said a survey showed 63% of females questioned said they felt underappreciated at work.
“That is a really easy thing to fix. You know, tell your employees, ‘Thank you’. Acknowledge their contributions, even if you don’t utilize their ideas, the fact that they were an active participant in trying to get the business to the next level. You know, just simple things where someone feels like you’ve given their time, you’ve actually listened to what it was that they said. Those are very often non-cash compensation ways to make your employees feel really, really good,” said Downs.
By the same token, if you’re the one feeling underappreciated at work, there are some tactics you can use to find ways to make your contributions matter.
“You can add value and participate all along the way, as things take different turns, as external events affect initiatives within the organization. So, you know, being an active participant, and if you have an idea, just making sure that you’re heard. I think sometimes it’s really important, if someone’s saying something, and you really don’t agree or understand, ask them, ‘Why do you feel that way? Why do you think that’s the best decision?’ And give them a chance to fully explain it. I think that goes a long way as well, that they feel like they are speaking to somebody that at least has an open mind.”
If that still doesn’t work, and you still don’t feel heard or that your work is appreciated, it may be time to make a change.
“For anybody, men or women, if you feel like you’ve been discounted, that’s where you have a personal choice to say, ‘I’m going to let this kind of eat me up’, or ‘I’m going to move on and have an impact in areas I know that I can make a positive impact,’” said Downs. “Sometimes I think as women, we can tend to take things a little bit more personally. Take them to heart. And if you’re not adding value in this particular situation, go find another one where you can add value, right? I mean, there’s only so many hours in a day, you know, to make a positive impact and make those impacts where they’re going to be well received.”
Finally, Downs said that one of the top qualities of some of the most successful women in business is that they are lifelong learners. You can use that concept to make yourself more valuable at your job by asking to cross-train or looking for continuing education opportunities. Maybe you can help another colleague with a project or there’s a project on the table that needs someone to take it to the next level and you can get new skills to add to your toolbox in the process. Sometimes it just takes a couple of extra hours a week to invest in yourself to get to the position you want.
But most importantly, Downs said you have to take care of yourself.
“I also think, and people who know me know that I’m an advocate for women, taking care of your physical self as well,” said Downs. “I think it’s really very easy for us to do, do, do, for everybody, right? Especially if we’ve got children, maybe aging parents, you know, partner, spouse, we’ve got our work life, we’ve got our not-for-profit stuff that we do. But I think it’s really important also to make sure, at certain points every week, to exercise to take care of your own physical health, because if you don’t do that, and your body breaks down, you’re not able to take care of all those responsibilities that you’ve got. And I think it’s also a good example to those around us that, ‘I value myself, and I’m going to carve off this time, in the mornings, in the evenings, I’m going to take a walk during my lunch hour every day.’”