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The wage gap costs women $1.6 trillion a year, new report finds. Here’s how to get the pay you deserve

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The wage gap costs women in the U.S. about $1.6 trillion a year, a new report finds.

Women earned 78 cents for every dollar that men made in 2022, according to National Partnership for Women and Families.

Researchers calculated the total cost to women of the wage gap by using statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, specifically data on all women who worked, whether in full- or part-time jobs, and those who took time off for illness or caregiving.

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“We’ve had the pay gap for so long, people have become desensitized to it and think it’s normal,” said Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “But it’s not anything that we should consider normal, and we ought not to normalize disparities that ought not to exist.”

While the numbers are discouraging, experts say the information should motivate women to be more aggressive during pay negotiations.

“I don’t want it to dissuade women or make them feel less motivated to go out there and get the pay they deserve,” said career and money expert Mandi Woodruff-Santos.

3 factors behind the wage gap

Three factors are contributing to the persistent pay gap, said Frye:

  1. Caregiving responsibilities: Women on average tend to work fewer hours because they assume many of the caregiving responsibilities in their families, she said. For instance, women last year spent roughly 2.68 hours a day caring for household children under the age of 6, according to the American Time Use Survey
  2. Occupational segregation: Women are concentrated in jobs that pay less and are often shut out from higher-paying jobs through occupational segregation, she said. Forty-two percent of the wage gap is the result of occupational segregation, which was exacerbated by the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Labor has found.
  3. Workplace discrimination: Women continue to face gender bias and discrimination. To that point, half of U.S. adults said women being treated differently by employers contributes to the pay gap, the Pew Research Center found.

“If you intervene in those three issues alone, you could cut that gap significantly,” said Frye.

What the pay gap means for women of color

Asian American women earned the most among female workers, making 89 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic male workers earn, the National Partnership for Women and Families found.

That pay scale worsens for each major racial or ethnic group in the country, with white female workers paid 74 cents to the dollar; Black female workers, 66 cents; and Latina female workers, 52 cents.

It’s important not to ignore the data, but rather let it motivate you, added Woodruff-Santos, who is the co-host of the podcast series “Brown Ambition” and founder of MandiMoney Makers.

“While data like this is important, it shouldn’t discourage women of all shades,” said Woodruff-Santos. “You don’t have to be a statistic.”

Here are three tips for getting ahead:

1. Expand your network

If you want to make it farther in your career, you need connections. To make connections, you need to feel comfortable speaking with different people. 

First off, build up your confidence by sharing your work and expertise with those around you — both in your company and in the wider industry you work in. For example, showcase your expertise at work during monthly team meetings and, for a wider reach, on social media platforms.

“Make sure your name is well known throughout the company, and that it’s associated with excellence,” said Woodruff-Santos.

As you make yourself known to others, conversations may get more uncomfortable the higher you go as a woman — and even more so if you’re a woman of color, she added.

“Those rooms were not built with us in mind, but it’s important for you to keep pushing and to get yourself a seat at those tables,” said Woodruff-Santos.

2. Stay informed about your market value

You should make a point of having substantive conversations with hiring managers and recruiters, and ask them about compensation ranges for someone with your experience to get an idea of your current market value.

You could later bring this information to your current employer when negotiating salary increases. However, what makes for even better leverage is having a competing job offer, said Woodruff-Santos.

“Women often need to have proof that we are desired by another company to wake up our managers and higher-ups,” she said. “If they’re not scared of losing you, you have less leverage.”

3. Think about the ‘compensation cupcake’

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc | Digitalvision | Getty Images

The “compensation cupcake” is the analogy Woodruff-Santos uses to help people determine their asking price and understand their worth.

The base of the cupcake, or the cake itself, is the market rate for your base salary. The icing, meanwhile, represents your additional incentives, like annual bonuses, stock grants or professional reimbursement funds your company offers.

“Those are financial benefits that we get that aren’t in our base salary but definitely are like cash in our pocket,” she said. 

The sprinkles on the cupcake symbolize unvested benefits, like equity or 401(k) plan matches. Finally, it’s all topped off by an “equalizer cherry,” which addresses data like the gender pay gap.

“Add a 10% to 20% premium on whatever compensation you think you’re vying for just to make up for that deficit,” said Woodruff-Santos. 

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