6 HR Execs on How Equal Pay Really Works

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In honor of Equal Pay Day, we talked to HR and recruiting executives about what they’ve learned about salaries — from what goes into a negotiation to how to effectively ask for a raise. Note: Names and details have been changed due to workplace confidentiality agreements.

The power of negotiation is all in the research

One way to figure out your own worth is by considering factors companies use in setting compensation, and expecting to be paid appropriately for having those qualifications. There are lots of reasons that people get paid what they get paid, says Sarah, head of people at a professional-services firm. “Companies will pay more for things that people don’t always consider,” she says. “Advanced education, niche or industry expertise, directly transferable experience, a desperately needed skill on the team — all of this translates to what someone is worth as a hire.”

Use that information to your advantage to consider everything you bring to the table when you negotiate an offer or ask for a raise — in other words, have your evidence ready when asking for more money. Have you done extra training? Are there experiences at your job or at prior positions that your manager might not be aware of? Does something from your educational background make you more qualified than people might realize?

But manager bias can still be a problem

Yes, advocating for yourself is the No. 1 rule to improving your salary. But according to two veteran executives, manager bias is still an issue in the workplace. Here, two HR execs share what they’ve seen:

“I once worked with a married couple. Their manager assumed that the woman who was pregnant would want to cut back her hours and instead of asking her went ahead and radically restricted her hours. At the same time, he gave her husband a raise, like “we have to make sure we can get you to the next level so you can look after your family” The thing that struck me was that he thought he was being a good manager who really knew his people. - Laura.

“I think that the issue we really need to look at is whether women get the jobs in the first place. I remember having conversations with a male manager who was about to make a new hire. He was like, ‘Well, we could hire her, but she’s 20-something, but she will only be here for a few years …’ His thought was, It will cost me X to recruit her, then I have to train her, which means X dollar, and then she’s going to leave to get married or have kids, and I have to do it all over again … If you are a young woman who just got engaged or has been with your boyfriend for a long time, many hiring managers will go for the guy.” —Michael.

Never reveal what you’re paid when you’re up for a new job

More and more states are passing labor laws prohibiting employers from asking for candidates’ salary information, and according to Erin, the director of recruiting at a luxury-goods company, it’s making a difference. “I know when I was part of a law firm, we would sometimes even ask to see pay stubs, and I think that is ethically wrong,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that people are asking for ridiculous amounts today, but they are definitely negotiating on the higher end.”

Rebecca, a sales recruiter at a technology company, says: “I tell candidates not to [tell me what they used to make]. I’ve had people offer up numbers to me and I’m like, ‘Okay, thank you for disclosing; however, we legally can’t ask anymore. And don’t tell people that!’ Tell people what you want. Candidates have thanked me. I think it’s about doing research, understanding your market value. If you feel you’re undervalued, do your research to figure out if you’re correct.”

Push through the awkwardness of talking about pay with your boss

Conversations about salaries can feel incredibly awkward, which is what stops many women from having them in the first place. This is one of those instances where practice makes permanent. If you can push yourself to talk to your manager about pay, you’ll never regret it — and you’ll want to keep doing it at every job.

Meghan, a leadership and development director at a global retail chain, has some advice:

1. “Approach [asking for a raise] by building a business case. Identify the challenges and successes the business is seeing. Speak to how you’re contributing to that success, how you plan to continue contributing, and the importance of your work.”

2. “Lead the conversation into the importance of being compensated for this work! I always advise people not to compare themselves to someone internal, as you don’t know for sure how they are compensated or their performance.”

3. “Do some homework on how individuals are compensated in your industry. The other advice I consistently give is, be creative. Maybe it’s not a salary increase right now — but based on the work you’re doing and your contributions, the company might consider a bonus.”

6 HR Execs on How Equal Pay Really Works