Debunking the “Mythsquitos” of Pay Equity and Tips on How to Capitalize on Negotiation Opportunities

Julia Heck

April 16, 2018

2059, 2124, 2233 ...

To be honest, until recently I had no idea how significant these numbers are to the conversation about pay equity and salary negotiations for women. Some of you may know, but for others, here is your first hint towards the significance: they are years.

Growing up, pay equity and salary negotiation were not topics of conversation around the house. Neither was the notion that I needed to learn how to engage in salary negotiations or be able to appraise the value of the skills I was gaining. As the eldest daughter, of parents who came from over four generations of self-employed farmers, college and the workforce (outside of coming back to the farm) was a bit of an ambiguous topic.

For the last nine years, I have fumbled my way through obtaining my collegiate education and transitioning through several professional positions. Yet, what has challenged me the most has been understanding how to calculate my value as a higher education professional and negotiating equitable pay.

It is cringeworthy to myself and others when I recount this tale: when offered my first entry-level position, I didn’t negotiate at all. I had every myth and excuse you could think of running through my head, telling me not to negotiate when it came to my salary. I was terrified! Looking back on this moment though, I truly wish I had been better prepared and armed with an arsenal of knowledge and tools that could have helped me better capitalize on that moment and set myself up for success.

Outside of my own personal experience … Did you know?

According to Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation - and Positive Strategies for Change, over 55% of women are apprehensive in negotiating, unlike our male counterparts at 39%. Additionally, while 46% of men consistently negotiate salaries, only 30% of women do.

Now, if this is not worrisome enough, coupled with generational aspects, the numbers can become even more grave. According to a survey conducted by Levo League (Harris, 2016), only 41% of millennial women stated they had negotiated any part (salary and/or benefits) of their job offer when they accepted their current job. Additionally, only 21% stated they had negotiated any part of their offer on the first job they took out of college. Reasons listed for this included: 66% reported not knowing how to ask for more, 63% felt uncomfortable negotiating, 58% were afraid of losing their job/offer, 56% didn’t know what to ask for, 55% didn’t want to come across as pushy, and 51% didn’t know they should ask for more. WHAT?!

Unfortunately though, these numbers do not surprise me and only reinforce the importance of having platforms such as the Women in Student Affairs Blog, Center for Women webinars, and the sessions sponsored/highlighted at the annual conference.

For these reason, it is my hope that the following will be able to debunk some of the myths that continue to combat forward movement towards pay equity, share insights into how you can give value to the skills and experiences you bring to a positions, and how to capitalize on that with tips and tricks for utilizing any negotiating opportunity to its fullest when it comes to salary and equitable pay.

Debunking the Myths:

When it comes to pay equity and salary negotiation, instead of girls running the world it seems that myths run the world. For every conversation where we try to impart the importance of continuing to work towards pay equity, encouraging and teaching women how to engage in effective salary negotiation, there is always a pesky “mythsquito” flying around.

Whether the topic is being covered on national news, in the breakroom over lunch, via a long facebook comments thread, or tweeted in 280 characters; these same myths are used as ammunition in attempting to shut down the conversation.

1)      Unequal Pay vs. the Gender Pay Gap

      I would venture to say that many of us have been the recipient of a comment stating, “Well, it is illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work, so there cannot be a gap between what they are paid.” While it is true that it is illegal, this does not equate to the gender pay gap disappearing. When reviewing the average compensation of men and women across their lifespan, the gender pay gap is very evident.

2)      The Pay Gap is Closing Fast

How many of us have heard someone argue that the pay gap is quickly decreasing? Contrary to that opinion, according to a report by the United Nations International Labour Organization (2015), from 1985-1994 the weekly earnings gender gap closed by 8.1%, from 1995-2004 the gap closed by 4.9%, and from 2005-2014 the gap only closed by 1.5%. Over the past 30 years, while progress has been made, it has slowed down tremendously and if we are not careful could see very little gain as we continue to move forward.

3)      Women Earn Less Because of Lifestyle Choices (in particular, becoming a parent)

      How many of you were aware that research shows that the lifestyle choice of becoming a father actually reflects positive associations with their earnings, to the tune of 11% higher than their male counterparts who do not have children (Hodges & Budig, 2010). This is stark contrast to a study conducted by Correll, Benard, & Paik (2007), which states that for every child a woman has, it is estimated that she suffers an approximate 5% wage penalty.  Additionally, Claud and Kahn (2013) have estimated that relative lack of family leave and workplace flexibility policies here in the United States have contributed to about one third of the gap in women’s workforce participation compared to other advanced countries. Yet, the fascinating part of this is that since 1860 the proportion of working moms in the United States has gone up a whopping 800% (Pappas, 2014).

Valuing What You Bring to the Table:

So, how do we change this narrative and jumpstart closing the gender pay gap at more significant percentages in the upcoming decades? One way is by making sure that we are appropriately assigning value to the significant work we have accomplished, continue to accomplish, and our contributions to the success of the organizations we work for.

Whether you have a job or a position you are seeking, consider this: how do my accomplishments, contributions, skills, and work experience demonstrate value or the contributions I will make in this role?

When I was considering this question, the best way for me to truly understand it was to engage in a small activity. So, I will challenge you to do the same.

For this activity, consider the following bullets:

●       professional accomplishments, such as awards, certifications, and recognitions

●       contributions to significant projects or work outcomes

●       skill areas where I have particularly excelled

●       measurable, positive work output and project outcomes

Pull out a piece of paper or pull up a blank word document. For the next 10 minutes write down as many accomplishments, contributions, skills, and measurable work outputs as you can.

Are you doing it? I promise if you give me just 10 minutes it will really make a difference!

Whew, you made it! But, I wonder, did you have a similar experience to me when I did this activity?

●       Did you find it difficult to quickly and easily come up with answers to these bullets?

●       Did you think of an item to write down and then question if it really was an accomplishment, significant contributions, or worthwhile to write down?

●       Did you start to question your entire existence? … okay maybe this one was just me …

I can guarantee that our colleagues, particularly male colleagues, have no problem 1) quickly and easily coming up with these answers if they are asked, 2) do not question if an item really answers this question (because it just does), and 3) will be prepared with these answers should an opportunity arise where they can capitalize on in terms of negotiating a salary or compensation.

If you struggled as much as I did with this activity, I would strongly encourage you to take the time necessary (set aside a few hours, a single day, etc.) to really consider this question and draw up a list that is representative of what you bring to the table related to each of these bullets. I know that it helped me considerably, not just in feeling prepared for negotiating, but also in my personal confidence about the strong, professional woman that I am!

Now, part 2! This could be daunting (as it was for me), but pull out a copy of your current resume or CV. Compare what you have on your list to what you have currently listed on your resume or CV. Make sure that the brand you are presenting within these documents accurately reflects you as well. When we haven’t spent the time to ensure that we are highlighting the best value we have within these documents it could be likened to dropping a penny for every step I take in a day. While they may be pennies individually and not seem like that much, if I have walked 10,000 steps that day, I’ve lost $100 dollars.

Negotiating to the Fullest:

1)      Always Engage in Negotiation - And Remember … Silence … Is Golden

Always engage in negotiation, many times this will be fruitful. If there is an offer on the table, there is always the chance to explore and potentially expand it. While some hiring authorities may truly be unable to give a different offer, at least you have not made any assumptions and left compensation on the table.

Additionally, ensure that you are not only focused on money, but think about the overall compensation package. There are many things that can be included within the negotiation that are not direct increases to a salary, such as technology needs, additional vacation time, flexible work schedule, additional benefits, and much more. Think creatively about your needs and make sure to build your negotiation around this.

Don’t forget that silence is golden. When you negotiate and articulate your offer to the hiring authority, live in the silence. I know this can be hard and our first instinct is to blurt out the first thing that comes into our heads in order to fill the silence, but DON’T! In many cases, the hiring party could just be contemplating if they can make that work or trying to run the numbers. Give them time! If they are getting ready to say yes, but you chime in with a lower number - well, you left an opportunity on the table.

2)      Do Your Homework

Make sure you have invested time in determining a salary range. Based on market research, previous salary information for the position (if available), cost of living, and an analysis of benefits, determine what an appropriate bottom and top salary cap could be. 

And with this, don’t fool yourself. If the offer you are given for a position comes in higher than what you expected, make sure to still negotiate. If this is the case, it probably means the range you identified wasn’t calibrated right. Ask for 24 hours and go back to the drawing board and do some more research.

Additionally, make sure that when you actually do negotiate you start with wiggle room (within your well-research, acceptable range), specifically starting a little higher than what you would accept. Many negotiations involve some back-and-forth. This way, in the end, you hopefully end up right around the sweet spot of what you are hoping for.

3)      Practice, Practice, Practice!

Negotiation skills improve with practice. But don’t wait and utilize your career as your opportunities to practice! Find colleagues, mentors, friends, trusted individuals, or even just a trusty mirror and engage in scenarios where you practice what you will say, how you will say it, and master the body language you use when engaging in negotiation. Figure out what works for you and practice enough so you feel comfortable (or as comfortable as you can get) in saying the words out loud and physically asking for what you want.

Looking to the Future:

So, back to 2059, 2124, and 2233.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2018), in the United States, if earnings for women and men, employed full-time year-round, continue to change at the pace they have been between 1959 and 2015, the gender wage gap will not close until 2059. Additionally, let me be clear that 2059 represents the year, not for all women, but for white women. For black women this closure would not occur until 2124, and for hispanic women the closure is even further away in 2233. When we think about this in years, we are talking about not closing the wage gap for at least one generation and in many cases several generations beyond where we are today.

So please start, join, and continue the conversations!

The American Association of University Women (2018) also encourages us to remember to start and join conversations on the following dates to highlight the stark realities of the pay equity gap:

●       February 22, 2018 - Asian American Women’s Equal Pay Day

●       April 17, 2018 - White Women’s Equal Pay Day

●       August 7, 2018 - Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

●       September 27, 2018 - Native Women’s Equal Pay Day

●       November 1, 2018 - Latinas’ Equal Pay Day

As educational leaders, we can also take steps within our institutions and during our work with students and colleagues.

●       Encourage your institutions, departments, and staff to examine their pay practices to determine if those practices support pay equity.

●       Encourage your institutions, departments, and staff to conduct a self-audit to analyze company practices. The NCPE offers tools related to conducting a self-audit.

●       Provide programming and mentorship to students related to debunking pay equity myths and provide spaces for students to engage in critical dialogue on pay equity in the United States.

●       Provide programming, mentorship, and tools to students related to identifying how to assess value to the skill sets they posses and how to accurately articulate that value during a potential salary negotiation.

●       Provide workshops and mock negotiations that allow students to actively engage in the negotiation process and practice within a constructive environment prior to engaging in the process in real life.

It is imperative that we continue to be the significant voices needed to debunk the myths utilized to combat pay equity discussions. It is imperative that we continue to work to assess our value as emerging leaders in higher education and the unique skills that we bring to our institutional leaders during challenging and changing times. It is imperative that we capitalize on every opportunity that presents itself in which we can ensure that we are compensated appropriately for the leadership we bring to our institutions, just as our male counterparts do.

Over the past several decades we have come a significant way, but the path ahead is still long and will include challenges. We must remain encouraged that we have the ability to continue to fight for pay equity and change the course of the future.


American Association of University Women (2018). How to “celebrate” equal pay day. Retrieved from

Blau, F. & Kahn, L (2013). Female labor supply: Why is the US falling behind? Institute for the Study of Labor, Discussion Paper 7140. Retrieved from

Correl, S., Benard, S. & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112(5), 1297-1339. Retrieved from

Gender, Equality and DIversity Branch, International Labour Office (2015). Women and the future of work: Beijing + 20 and beyond. Retrieved from

Harris, K. (2016, April 5). Over sixty percent of millennial women say they don’t know how to ask for more. Retrieved from

Hodges, M. & Budig, M. (2010). Who gets the daddy bonus? Organizational hegemonic masculinity and the impact of fatherhood on earnings. Gender & Society, 24(6), 717-745. DOI: 10.1177/0891243210386729

Institution for Women’s Policy Research (2018). Pay equity & discrimination. Retrieved from

National Committee on Pay Equity (2018). Equal pay day kit. Retrieved from

National Organization for Women (2018). The gender pay gap - myth vs. fact. Retrieved from

Papas, S. (2014, May 11). Working moms increase by 800 percent since 1860, according to new analysis. Retrieved from

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