If you are a woman reading this, you may have been essentially working for free until today.
April 14 this year is Equal Pay Day. The date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn as much as their male counterparts earned in 2014. While the gender wage gap has narrowed over the years, women still earn 78 cents to every dollar earned by men, according to the most recent census data.
That pay gap is something that Caroline Ghosn understands all too well. She was an analyst at McKinsey & Company for three years before she realized she was earning less than her male colleague with the same exact job. She’d kept her head down those three years, taking on more responsibilities, but never asking for more money.
“There’s this huge taboo around talking about money that we have as a society,” says Ghosn. “I realized I should be having that conversation.”
It’s this disparity and a lack of career resources that led Ghosn to her next career move. In 2012, after quitting her job at McKinsey, she cofounded Levo, which focuses on offering career resources to women in the early stages of their career.
Among Levo’s efforts is its annual Ask4More campaign, which offers resources on gender wage differences and salary negotiation. Levo attempts to reach women early in their careers in the hopes of preventing the gender wage gap from getting even wider with time.
Still, even early in the game, women start out earning less than men. Just one year after graduating from college, women are paid 82% of the salary men receive, according to the American Association of University Women. It’s a disparity made all the more egregious by the fact that more women attend college than men, earn higher grades on average, and graduate at higher rates.
Over time, not asking for more money contributes to the widening wage gap. According to the most recent report by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, on average, women earn 78.3% of men’s salaries. Over the course of a 40-year career, that can lead to a loss of $435,000 for women.
“Your male twin could be on vacation from January 1 all the way to April. You could be working all this time and make the same amount of money as him,” says Ghosn. “We don’t talk about this enough, and it keeps coming back every year.”
The problem, as Ghosn sees it, is the persistent taboo around talking about salary openly–regardless of gender. That doesn’t mean you should march into the boss’s office, demand more money, and expect to get a raise on the spot.
But it does mean taking a more strategic approach to asking for more money and getting over the discomfort of advocating for yourself. “Think about the value of what you are creating and talk about that in an objective way,” says Ghosn.
The issue is, of course, more complicated than simply asking or not asking. Research has shown that gender biases in the workplace may very well contribute to the problem. A survey of more than 30,000 people done by Payscale as reported by The Atlantic found that among those with MBAs, 63% of men asked for a raise, verses just 48% of women with MBAs. And the catch: Of those who asked, women were denied a raise 21% of the time, while men were told no only 10% of the time.
Critics of the “just ask” approach like Joan C. Williams, a law professor and coauthor of the book What Works for Women at Work, say aggressiveness, while seen as a merit among male workers, is often seen as a negative trait in women. Williams points to research that has shown women who ask for raises “tend to be disliked, and often end up making lower starting salaries,” according to a recent Op-Talk in the New York Times.
Still, the fact remains: If you never ask for more money, you’ll never know if you could be earning more. And women simply don’t ask as often as men do. A recent survey of 10,000 Levo members found that 90% had never asked for more responsibilities, feedback, or a salary increase. The Ask4More campaign aims to change that by sharing women’s success stories and running workshops on how to negotiate effectively.
While Ghosn was hesitant to ask for a raise early in her career, these days, she’s anything but mum about money. She’s raised $9.25 million from investors to help grow Levo. “The world is not such that you can put your head down, do good work, and you will be compensated,” she says. “You have to advocate for yourself.”