Seven years have passed since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law, and yet a gaping hole still exists between what men and women earn in the workplace.

According to a recent study from TIME and Motto, women continue to earn less than men at all age ranges, from 15 percent less between the ages of 22 and 25, to 38 percent less between the ages of 51 and 64.

While studies like this present an abstract view of the gender-based pay gap, there is a drastic difference between thinking you may know what your male colleague is making … and actually finding out that he’s earning $15,000 more than you. In fact, an Institute for Women’s Policy Research survey shows that 60 percent of private-sector employees are either strictly prohibited or strongly discouraged from talking about their pay with their colleagues. This secrecy makes it difficult for women to know if they’re actually being paid a wage that’s comparable to their male co-workers.

So what can women do if they suspect they’re earning less than their male counterparts? First, they should discuss their concerns with their employer. Here are some tips for addressing the pay inequality issue with your supervisor.

  • Gather information about what you should be making. Knowing what your male co-workers earn is, of course, the best information you could have. But you likely won’t have that information, and so there are other ways to collect useful data. If you work for a public company or a university, many salaries are considered public information, although you may have to do some online research or make some phone calls to get the data. Another helpful resource may be associations within the industry, which often survey members about their compensation.
  • Focus on your achievements. Be prepared to talk about your achievements and performance evaluations. And practice what you will say beforehand to be confident in the meeting.
  • Consider outside help. Talking to an employer about compensation often makes employees uncomfortable. This is why some companies have equal employment opportunity officers who can help navigate these difficult situations. If your employer doesn’t offer this resource, the AAUW and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can provide information about your options.
  • Be confident, but not confrontational. Research shows that women who are demanding during wage negotiations are viewed negatively while men are seen as being confident. With this in mind, negotiations should take place in a manner that is constructive and not confrontational. Always consider your supervisor, the company, and the achievements they value, and frame the conversation in a way that appeals to them.
  • Make positive use of the feedback. Even if your employer cannot offer you a raise, a productive discussion can still take place about your work performance, the company’s salary policy, the pay range for your position and how it’s established, and so forth. In the end, you may actually find out that you aren’t going to advance much further in the company, and that perhaps you should be looking for another job.
  • It’s not all about the salary. Even if your company cannot raise your salary, you can ask for the opportunity to work on new and bigger projects, or be provided additional training through a class or a workshop.
  • Remember to follow-up. If you don’t get a pay increase, be sure to ask when the issue can again be discussed. Salary negotiations are not a one-time event, and employees can revisit all aspects of their work numerous times.
  • Legal options. In some cases, an employer may unlawfully be discriminating against women in the workplace, in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. If you suspect that your employer is engaging in gender-based pay discrimination, please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Employment Litigation Group to discuss your concerns.

Tad T. Roumayah

View all posts by
Tad T. Roumayah

Tad Roumayah focuses his practice primarily on employment litigation, representing employees who have encountered discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, whistleblower protection claims, wage and hour violations and other employment issues and disputes.