Want your girl to get paid like a boy? Treat her like one
As a kid growing up in Queens, I remember my mom pulling me aside at some family celebration and telling me how proud she was of my good grades. I don’t remember if it was my uncle or older cousin who ruined the moment by chiming in with the joke: “If all goes well, you’ll have a ‘nice little career,’ and hopefully marry a dentist.”
This remark became a tongue-in-cheek refrain each time I had success, like seeing my first personal finance book become a New York Times bestseller, or getting asked to be a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.
Funny thing about this unfunny quip? It was never used for my brothers. (One of whom, in a twist of career karma, ended up a periodontist.)
But, hey—this was the ’70s. The late, great Mary Tyler Moore—a favorite of every girl I knew—starred in what was considered an audacious TV series at the time because it featured a single career woman, a TV producer at the fictional WJM news who lived all alone in Minneapolis. My favorite episode: when Mary asked her boss, Lou Grant, why she made fifty dollars a week less than the associate producer who’d had the job before her. Mr. Grant calmly explained, to the nervous titter of an old-time laugh track, that her predecessor had earned more because he was a man who had a family to support. (Interestingly, Mr. Grant was played by actor/activist Ed Asner, who must have savored the idea of calling attention to the wage gap before it was a trending topic.)
Women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar made by a man.
Today, few people would ever think—nonetheless joke aloud—that a girl wouldn’t want or need a big, successful, man-sized career—or admit her lower pay had something to do with her gender. Superstars from Viola Davis to Tina Fey to Beyoncé have spoken up about the pay gap. So how crazy is it that that women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar made by a man? (That’s based on the median, full-time annual earnings, by the way.) And things aren’t exactly changing fast. It’s taken more than two decades for that number to creep up from around 70 cents (after adjusting for inflation).
Progress might be slow, but at least the pay-gap conversation has gone mainstream. Now, after 25-plus years as a personal financial journalist, author, advocate, and mom, I think it’s time to start paying attention to another disparity: the money gap.
In its annual “Parents, Kids & Money Survey” over the last two years, investment firm T. Rowe Price has found that parents tend to focus most of the money talk on their sons. The 2016 survey discovered that 30% of parents say they talk to their boys more than their girls about financial issues, while only 24% give their girls more money advice. Why might that be? Those same parents said that boys ask a lot more questions.
Really? So parents should sit around the living room and wait until their kids ask before they start talking about a topic as important as money? In the company’s 2014 survey, more parents said their sons understand the value of the dollar. It’s no wonder then that boys are more confident about their money smarts.
Personally, I am dumbfounded by how supersmart people can carry around startling biases without even realizing it. Recently, a man I met who directs a nonprofit began talking to me about his daughter. He had just read my new book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), and was taken aback by the notion that parents talk to sons about money more than daughters—until he realized something.
“You know, my daughter is so smart, but I always joke to her that she is going to eat up my 401(k) with her spending,” he said, sighing. “I didn’t realize until now that I’ve made such a point of talking to my son about investing and being smart with money, but not my daughter.”
So what’s to be done? It would be nice if we could trust that our girls would learn basic money management skills in school, but we can’t. Fewer than half of states make personal finance mandatory for high school students. And we do little to prepare our teachers. In a 2010 NEFE-funded study, two University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers surveyed 1,200 K–12 teachers and found that 89 percent of them believe wholeheartedly in financial literacy for high schoolers. Great—but only 20 percent of teachers felt fully ready to teach the subject.
Given the persistent pay gap, one area where young women could use some special attention is the art of salary negotiation. In a survey by career consultant Carol Frohlinger, only 16 percent of women always bargain with employers about compensation. About the same percentage of women feel strongly that they’re effective at negotiating.
Frohlinger’s was a small study, but I can confirm her findings with a (slightly embarrassing) incident from my past. Early in my career, when I was ghostwriting a column syndicated in hundreds of newspapers for Sylvia Porter—the first person, let alone woman, to write about personal finance—I met with Money magazine’s editor-in-chief, Landon Jones. After meeting with him at the Mad Men–esque Time & Life Building to discuss coming on as a staff writer, he called to offer me the job, at a salary of, if memory serves me, $30,000 a year. I said, “Great,” and that was that. Pretty soon, Lanny, an incredibly fair person, phoned me back. “You know,” he said, “I was going to go higher than $30,000.” My reply? (Are you sitting down?) “Oh, no. That’s fine!” I was single, living in a room without a door with my roommate Paula. I could have used the cash, if for nothing else than to buy a nice curtain to give me (and Paula, too) some privacy. Instead, I talked him out if it. And just like that I was locked into a bargain-basement starting salary.
Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Sure, but start low, and you’ll stay low. After studying 5 million people over four decades for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, economists concluded that “the bulk of earnings growth happens during the first decade” of your career. Any raises you receive are calculated with that beginning salary as the baseline.
That’s why I firmly believe part of leveling the playing field for women—and perhaps even narrowing that wage gap—has to be teaching our daughters the salary negotiating skills that boys seem to deploy so effectively.
- Do your homework before the interview. Salary doesn’t usually come up at the first interview. And though it’s considered bad form to tell an interviewer how much you want, if you’re asked point-blank, it’s good to be prepared. Steer your daughter to Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, or PayScale.com to find out what her industry typically pays, so she can offer a range.
- Know what you want—but don’t burn bridges. It’s particularly important for women starting out in the job market to be confident and clear-minded, but don’t go overboard. I have seen blog and magazine pieces directed to women that overcorrect by giving advice in a “You go, girl!” tone when it comes to asking for more money in job interviews. Remember, you’ll be working with these people, so you don’t want to come off as rude, just savvy. (I know, I know. People wouldn’t say that about a man. But we still have a long way to go, baby.)
- If you get lowballed like I was, be ready to give specific reasons why you deserve more—even citing data you’ve collected online. But here’s the key: Be polite. Oh, and it’s always okay to ask for 24 hours to think it over.
- If the offer is generous, say yes. Don’t negotiate just to avoid looking like a pushover. You might end up looking like a jerk. Remember, the person across the desk is going to be your boss. Getting off on the right foot is worth more than a few extra bucks in your paycheck.
- Don’t be blind to benefits. After all, they make up almost a third of the average employee’s compensation. You need to know what you’re getting. And be sure you understand the value of a solid 401(k) with a company match.
As for my first big job offer, maybe I didn’t exactly play hardball, but I got so much more than I could have dreamed of. When I started at Time Inc., at the age of twenty-one, I was the youngest staff writer that company had ever hired. I soaked up everything I could learn about personal finance, and just a few years later I published Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties. It went on to sell 500,000 copies. You can bet that when I went to negotiate the advance for my latest book, I wasn’t going to be taking the first number they threw out.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn.com. © 2017 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved.