45 Seconds to Change the World: What Every Woman Can Do to Help Close the Gender Pay Gap

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Equal Pay Day is observed annually to demonstrate how much of a head start men have in earnings in a typical year. In 2021, it took until March 24 for women to earn an amount equal to what men earned in 2020. That’s right: Women needed almost three extra months of work to close the pay gap.

And the lack of pay equity was more obvious than ever in 2020, with the pandemic taking a much larger toll on women’s careers than on men’s. In fact, a Deloitte study found 82 percent of women had their lives negatively disrupted by the pandemic, and 70 percent of those women expect they’ll face long-term career setbacks as a result.

The fact that we seem to be moving backward right now adds that much more urgency to our collective need to address the gender pay gap. If we want to tackle the situation in a meaningful way, everyone has to act, not just women (although their actions are critical too, of course, and we’ll get to that in a moment). As a business leader, I ensure that we recognize talent and skill with our salary offers, and I encourage all staff to get comfortable with salary discussions to ensure that we are not only providing increases to those who ask.

I made that commitment because I know that men are more likely to negotiate their salaries than women are. The gap starts right there. That has to change — and every woman can help make by taking an extra 45 seconds in their next salary negotiation.

But before we get to that, we should consider why we’re in this situation in the first place.

Why Women Don’t Ask for More

Randstad reports that 60 percent of women have never negotiated their wages with an employer. Women in the US lose about $406,000 over a lifetime due to the gender pay gap, and math being math, salary differences that start off small compound over time.

According to Harvard Business School’s Katie Shonk, researchers blame “deeply ingrained societal gender roles” for women’s reluctance to negotiate. Thankfully, the world is a different place for women today than it was 20 years ago. However, there is still considerable social pressure on women to be more accommodating, less assertive, and more focused on the needs of others than their own.

That said, the “mama bear” is a cliché for a reason: Women can be incredibly brave and strong when standing up for others. To cite just one example, Erin Brockovich didn’t find her career groove until she started fighting for a beleaguered community against a giant corporation. What if I told you there’s a way to leverage that impulse to give women a reason to fight for a higher salary during negotiations?

The Longest 45 Seconds of an Interviewee’s Life

There’s a simple formula that can radically change the outcome of a salary negotiation, and it works like this: When an interviewer makes a salary offer, the woman on the receiving end should respond politely with these three sentences: “Thank you for the offer. I’m surprised. I thought it would be more.”  And then she should wait for 45 seconds.

It might feel like the longest 45 seconds of her life, but it’s important not to speak during the countdown. The longer it takes the interviewer to respond — the longer that awkward silence stretches out — the more likely it is they are calculating the increase available, their ability to offer it, and how to respond. Women should do this even if the offer is more than expected (the joyful cartwheels can wait a couple more moments).

We know companies don’t open with their highest offers. If they did, gender pay parity would be a done deal, but it’s not. Despite all the progress women have made in the workplace over the last couple of generations, our work is not done. Waiting out that 45 seconds might feel like an eternity, but it will also be an exponential game changer.

Do It Not for Yourself, but for Others

For whatever reason, women tend to refrain from salary negotiation. We must change that paradigm, and we all play a critical part in that effort. It’s important to challenge everyone you know on this front.  Together, we can close that stubborn gender pay gap.

So, when a business contact or friend — or a mother, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, or cousin — tells you she’s a finalist for a position, let her know she has an opportunity that goes beyond the job for which she has applied. Tell her she has a chance to help change the world, and it only takes 45 seconds.

Let the interviewee know you’ll follow up to see how she did. Create connection and accountability, and give her that added incentive to speak up, if not strictly for herself, then on behalf of other women who will continue to suffer the negative consequences of the pay gap if nothing changes.

Tara Kelly is the founder, president, CEO of SPLICE Software.

By Tara Kelly