Every year, the National Committee on Pay Equity’s Equal Pay Day calls attention to the wage gap between men and women in the American workplace. Held on a Tuesday to demonstrate how far into the week women must labor to earn the same as men did the previous week, it reminds us that women still face discrimination in our society.
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Equal Pay Day resonates with me. At the same time, being on staff at a digital advertising agency (and one that pays women equal to men) has also given me a lot of insight into the influence advertising and the media have over how we view — and treat — women. In regards to women and their role in society and the workplace, what we see on all the screens we watch these days has enormous power to change our perceptions.
When it comes to closing the wage gap, this gives me hope. As advertisers, marketers and other media professionals, we have access to millions of people. What if we harnessed this ability to communicate, en masse, that women deserve to make just as much money, for the same job, as men? To make this work, however, we also need to teach women to advocate for better pay for themselves.
A good start is to offer guidance on finding a working environment that is more likely to offer women fair pay. This will empower women to make their own choices about where they work, nurturing a greater sense of confidence that will in turn influence other women to look for similar workplaces.
In my experience, these workplaces all share certain traits:
Talent and Grit Trump Laurels
Jobs that assess employees based on their talent and ability to work hard, not where they went to school or whether they scored the corner office in their previous position, are better for women (and, really, anybody). These employers value people for what they actually offer the organization, and by the same token, are more likely to judge a woman by her skills and dedication, not her gender.
Guidance Is a Given
An organization where supervisors are willing to help employees get up to speed on a new type of task or duty, or even advise them on the next best steps in their careers, is one that tends to treat women well. These employers take the time to invest in each staff member and his or her wellbeing on the job, demonstrating they view the person as an individual, not just another cog in the machine. This makes them unlikely to focus on gender when it comes to the amount of zeroes in a paycheck.
The Boss Believes in You
Employers that trust and believe in the people that work for them foster a sense of confidence that can encourage a woman to ask for the salary or raise she deserves. Often, this also imbues staff members with a sense of ownership and pride in the work at hand, encouraging them to put forth their best effort. At the end of the day, they feel like are learning, growing and achieving, which also puts them in a position to ask for better money when the time comes for that.
Learning Opportunities Abound
A boss who continually encourages employees to learn new skills and advance on the job — whether that means getting up to speed on the latest version of a software program or taking a class that will allow someone to move to a higher level — recognizes the value this will add to the organization. This attitude also demonstrates a strong commitment to the employee’s success in the field, so there is also more concern about paying that person what he or she is worth.
Along similar lines, a supervisor that is open to hearing new ideas for projects and tasks tends to signal a good working environment for women seeking a fair wage. After all, if your boss is willing to listen to and possibly implement your thoughts on bringing in a new account, let’s say, he’s probably also more likely to listen when you want to up your salary.
Coworkers Are Collaborators
Besides the boss, the people a woman works with can indicate an environment that is more likely to offer equal pay. Colleagues that view their efforts as part of a team, and collaborate with one another to further the organization’s goals, demonstrate that the workplace is more focused on building up an individual. This spirit often goes hand in hand with fair wages for women.
Female job hunters can find out if a job they are considering offers an environment with these qualities by starting up conversations about the employer on work forums and talking with current staff members. Also, during an interview, they can ask about an organization’s values and culture.
There are many factors that go into salary decisions, including level of experience, education and skill set. A woman in a given job may make less than a man, because the man happens to have spent more time in the field, has more education or has a wider range of skills. This is fair. What’s not fair is when a woman with an equal background, education and skill set as a man makes less than him.
Advertisers, marketers and media professionals hold the keys to changing this. We have the means of mass communication. Let’s get started by arming women with practical tips and tools that put them in the best possible position for fair pay. If enough choose workplaces that offer an equal wage, it just may goad those organizations that don’t to get on board with better pay for women. And finally, we can close the door on the wage gap for good.