Megan Rapinoe is one of the best soccer players in the world, but she’s also known for something else: fighting for equal pay for women.
“It’s not easy to constantly have to demand your worth. Or tell people how good you are. Or tell people you deserve to be a full human,” Rapinoe says in ‘LFG,’ a new documentary on HBOMax about the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s lawsuit for equal pay against U.S. Soccer. A federal judge dismissed the claim in May 2020, but the team filed an appeal earlier this year ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which begin July 23.
Rapinoe’s public candor has been evidently painful for her, but has also become a model for how women can embrace salary transparency as a way to fight the systemic bias that leads to unequal pay. Substitute any other career, and what Rapinoe and her colleagues say throughout the documentary still applies.
“It’s important when high-profile figures, like the U.S. women’s soccer team, stand up and speak out. They are extraordinary athletes who want to be paid fairly and they haven’t been,” says Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where her work focuses on a wide range of women’s issues. “It reveals the depth and breadth of the problem.”
In just about every industry across locations and job positions, men earn more than women. Women in the U.S. take home 82 cents on average for every dollar earned by men, according to the National Partnership For Women and Families, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for women’s health, equality, and economic security. For women of color, that gap is even wider — Black women make about 63 cents on the dollar compared with men, while Latina women make 55 cents.
The gap is such that a Black woman must work this year until August 3rd, approximately, to make what a white man made the previous year, while a Latina woman must work until October 21.
“Most people understand the importance of paying people fairly for wages. It’s a core principle that’s rooted in our democracy,” says Frye. “We have to lift up examples, like the U.S. women’s soccer team, that everyone can understand and see. But we also have to lift up examples in our own lives.”
Tackling the Gender Pay Gap: From Individual Choices to Institutional Change
Closing the gender wage gap isn’t as simple as negotiating your salary or advocating for yourself at work. The problem is systemic — so much so that it affects everybody from sports stars to employees in corporate America. Growing inequality and reduced regulation and transparency have made closing the gender pay gap an uphill battle, according to a 2016 policy brief from UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
But there are still ways women can create change in their lives in smaller, yet meaningful ways. As a way to raise awareness, forge connections, and get themselves a raise, many women are embracing radical transparency about their salaries and financial goals.
“The cards are stacked against us. We have been programmed as a society to recognize the white male presence and voice as more valuable and authoritative,” says Mandi Woodruff-Santos, co-host of the podcast “Brown Ambition and a personal finance expert. “ It’s really important in your own life, as a woman, to acknowledge that but not let it suffocate you or get you down.”
Be Transparent With Your Salary
Many people might not even be aware of the disparity in salary between men and women. Experts we spoke to say one of the best things you can do to help advocate for equal pay is be transparent with your salary among your peers and personal network.
“Put the numbers out there. The idea that salary is taboo and something that shouldn’t be talked about needs to change. Companies also need to start being a lot more transparent, especially private corporations,” says Jannese Torres-Rodriguez, a Latina money expert, entrepreneur and host of the podcast “Yo Quiero Dinero.”
Doing online research on what other people with your title make at a certain company or in your industry is a good starting point, but public salary information isn’t always accurate. That’s why it’s useful to talk about your salary with friends and peers, and even reach out to people who work in similar positions.
“You can do a bunch of different things to earn a higher income, but you have to know the baseline and know what’s possible,” says Torres-Rodriguez. “And the only way to know that is by having discussions with people in your peer group, your mentors, and professional colleagues.”
If you’re unsure what to say, Tori Dunlap, founder of financial education business, Her First $100k, and host of the podcast “Financial Feminist,” suggests giving them context and revealing your salary first.
“Say ‘I’m worried that I’m being underpaid. I’m making $60,000 a year. Would you mind telling me your salary range?,’” according to Dunlap. “It can be a range— it doesn’t have to be an exact amount of money. Also, anytime you’re going to talk about an uncomfortable topic, like money, presenting numbers first can help level the power dynamic potentially.”
Normalize Discussions Around Money
Women can change the money game by disrupting societal expectations that talking about money is taboo or unacceptable. After all, knowledge is power.
“It makes so many people uncomfortable asking how much you make, what you do, what education you have, and how did you get to where you are in your career,” says Torres-Rodriguez. “But all of those things need to be talked about because that’s what’s going to open peoples’ eyes to what is happening around them.”
It can be as simple as sharing your thoughts on certain money topics with your friends and co-workers or bringing up something new you learned about personal finance at the dinner table. By normalizing these discussions, women can collectively give themselves the information they need to help narrow the gender wage gap.
“There’s a long history of expectations that women will accept lower salaries and fewer hours or take on responsibilities in their families and that their careers are more expendable,” says Frye. “Those are things that we can address and fix.”
Know Your Value and Establish Boundaries
There comes a point where you have to identify your challenges, strive to overcome them, and succeed in spite of them, says Woodruff-Santos. Knowing your value and establishing boundaries both play critical roles in achieving that mindset.
“There’s a certain mindset shift that we have to talk about as women, especially women of color,” says Woodruff-Santos. “We wake up and we know that the world is a little more hostile to us for things that are out of our control, and yet we are happy, we thrive, we try, we work, we invest, we build wealth, and we do our best in spite of all of that.”
For example, if you’re entering the negotiation phase with a potential employer, think about what your skill set is worth and be prepared to explain why that is the appropriate or fair amount — and do not underestimate yourself.
“If you’re going into a salary negotiation sweaty and your heart is not palpitating and you don’t have to take a few deep breaths afterward, I don’t think you’re asking for enough,” says Woodruff-Santos. “It should be uncomfortable. I think that’s a good indication that we are asking for what we’re worth — when it feels uncomfortable.”
It starts with doing your research, talking to people in your field, and having a solid network of peers to talk openly about salary, says Woodruff-Santos. There are numerous online resources and tips on negotiating pay, as well as websites that collect salary and income information by location, such as Glassdoor and Payscale. If you want to take it a step further, consider working with a career coach.
During a salary negotiation, avoid giving a specific salary figure first, even if a prospective employer asks. Instead, ask what the allotted budget is for the position and negotiate from there.
Torres-Rodriguez suggests practicing your negotiation skills when the stakes are low. For example, you can try negotiating with your TV cable company to lower your monthly bill. Part of being a successful negotiator is “having a poker face and not letting your emotions take over the discussion,” says Torres-Rodriguez.
“I advocate practicing in front of the mirror,” she says. “If you are going into a big interview where you’re negotiating your salary and that’s tens of thousands of dollars on the table, you don’t want that to be the first time you’re practicing what you’re going to say.”
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how well you negotiate because a crucial element is often overlooked during a negotiation: implicit bias. If you ever feel like there’s implicit bias during a negotiation, consider slowing it down or pausing the conversation to give yourself a chance to process what’s going on.
Learn From Women Who Inspire You
There’s no better way to grow than learning from someone who has overcome the issues you’re facing in your own life. Whether you find a career coach or simply follow a few personal finance experts on social media, you won’t regret taking time to learn a thing or two that can help your career and financial situation.
“There are so many career coaches on Instagram right now, and they will help you with all types of things like resume writing, negotiation and just boosting your overall confidence,” says Torres-Rodriguez. “So definitely hang out on social media and look for those people. There are so many of us out here who just want to provide you with information.”
Hold Larger Systems and Corporations Accountable
Recognize that you can use your influence to ensure larger systems and corporations follow through on their promises and be a catalyst for change. This can be accomplished in many different ways, from voting for lawmakers who support federal efforts toward closing the gender pay gap to calling out discriminatory policies in your workplace.
“It has to start and grow from larger, more systemic change rather than just putting the issue on women,” says Dunlap. “I teach women how to negotiate their salaries, but I fully acknowledge that that’s a very small piece in this larger puzzle.”
If you’re someone just starting out in your career, don’t feel bad for not being the person who asks the tough questions, says Woodruff-Santos. But at the same time, if you feel compelled to point out inconsistencies in company statements or send an email to your CEO about your concerns, do it.
“You know your work environment best. If you think you can do that with little risk to your career, I think those are sometimes risks worth taking,” says Woodruff-Santos. “If employees don’t hold higher-ups accountable, they really won’t make these big changes.”