Q: As a woman in a male-dominated field, I’m worried that I won’t know if the compensation I’m being offered in a new role is comparable to the men in the same role. What can I say or do before accepting to make sure I’m receiving equal pay for equal work?
A: As you know, a Massachusetts equal pay law went into effect on July 1, 2018, with the goal of clarifying the definition of unlawful wage discrimination and adding protections to increase equity in the workplace. In anticipation of this change, many organizations changed their interview training and protocol. To comply with the law and support equitable hiring, organizations removed any questions on forms that ask about a candidate’s current or previous compensation. Some companies have made even broader financial changes across the organization to address and remedy gender pay inequity they found at their company. You are positioned well to encounter potential employers who are likely being very cautious about ensuring women get equal pay.
Since companies can no longer ask about salary—and some are even uncomfortable asking about salary expectations—the responsibility to frame an appropriate compensation range falls to you. The research you do ahead of time is more important than ever. Find out the compensation range for what companies in your area and industry are paying. Determine what your role typically earns or how much a specific company pays for your position via LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or another paid database. Talking to people live is even more effective. Use your network to discover where an organization lands on the pay scale. Part of a company’s strategy is determining whether they want to be the pay driver in the marketplace and be the highest payer, or if they expect employees to come in at the 50th or 75th percentile of the marketplace. This kind of information might come from HR people, who have hired employees from the company you’re interested in, or from current or former employees themselves. Arming yourself with this information can help you assess the fairness of an offer.
Only after you have this information and believe there’s mutual interest can you ask questions about pay structure. Prepare the organization to make an outstanding offer by covering what’s included in your current compensation with an appropriate increase to cover the risk of joining a new organization. Recognize that compensation is complex—it’s not just salary. Depending on your industry, you may have base salary plus bonuses, benefits and contribution for benefits, short- and long-term incentives, and potentially a sign-on bonus, which is often used to balance out equity issues. If you have a bonus or vesting coming up at your current company, articulate that to the potential employer to give a sense of what an appropriate offer would include.
Just looking at salaries is not enough to determine a company’s commitment to gender equity in the workplace. Throughout the interview process and in conversations with your network, look for clues that convey the level of influence and advancement women have at the organization. Are there women on the team you’re joining? If so, how have they fared at the company? Have they been promoted? Put on high-profile projects or accounts? Find out what the average tenure is for women at the organization. This will give you a sense of what it’s like for a woman working on this team. If the male-dominated team isn’t welcoming to new women hires or if opportunities for advancement aren’t offered to women, you’ll notice a lot of short stints at the organization. Look at the composition of the executive board, as well—how many women are there? Consider how you were found for this role. Did the company hire a search firm, asking specifically for women candidates? Was the job advertised in a women’s group or publication? This might indicate that they’re actively seeking to grow the ranks of women at their organization. The optics of gender equity aren’t enough, though—it’s an issue if they just want to check the box of hiring women but offer little or no support to retain those hires. Especially in a male-dominated field, look to see what internal support structures are in place. Do they have mentoring programs and affinity groups? After the offer comes in, you can ask what it is they’re doing to create and sustain gender equity at the company.
In general, if a company wants to hire the best talent, they aren’t aiming to undercut anyone. They’ll make an offer they hope will ensure the person accepts, or at least gets their attention, especially in the current competitive market. You’re still correct to focus on this issue, so do your research and look around for signs of the company’s commitment to gender pay equity.