Why are we still making less than men? We've all heard the stats and know the score: Even though we outnumber men on college campuses, we're still stuck on that measly 77 cents, where we've been languishing for years. In 1970, we made 59 cents to a man's dollar, and that was 43 years ago. If the wage gap is such common knowledge, why can't we get up to speed?

Some of it is about personal choice: Men are more apt to pursue careers in high-paying fields like computer science, engineering, and finance, while women are more likely to go into education, child care, and social sciences—careers that pay less. (Why those fields pay less is another story altogether.) We're more likely to leave the workforce or go part-time during our corporate-ladder climb to start or take care of families. But our personal choices don't explain away the gap entirely: Even when we don't leave the workplace, we're paid less. Even when we choose careers in science, tech, and engineering, we're paid less. We're even paid less right out of college.

But here's the good news: There's a steady cultural drumbeat today that could very well turn the wage-gap tide in our favor, finally, once and for all. In Congress, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and her fellow cosponsors are pushing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that will strengthen the Equal Pay Act (see box below) and make it harder to pay women less for the same job. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg launched an explosive conversation this spring about the lack of women in corporate and government leadership positions with her new book, Lean In. Add to these the general media glare on the wage gap, and it's looking like now is the perfect time to fight for what's fair.

How to do it? Campaign to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. (Go to marieclaire.com/paycheckfairness to learn more.) Find out what you're worth, and negotiate a higher salary if you realize you're making less than you deserve. Learning to negotiate is the number one thing that we can do to battle the wage gap—and it's something that, for all the incredible inroads we've made in the workforce, women are notoriously timid about. "[Women] don't want to create waves," explains Gillibrand. "We think we'll be discriminated against if we negotiate." Thankfully, that's changing, too. Over the next few pages, today's killer negotiators give you their best bargaining-table advice. Take it and start making some waves of your own. —

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SERENA WILLIAMS

In June 2002, tennis champion Serena Williams beat her sister Venus at the French Open final, drawing twice as many TV viewers as the men's final earlier that week. But the prize money awarded was $18,000 less than that of the male champion, Albert Costa. The next month, when Williams defeated her sister at Wimbledon, the women's final overshadowed the men's in the ratings once again—yet she earned $56,000 less in prize money than Lleyton Hewitt. The pay discrepancy wasn't lost on Williams: Along with Venus and a cadre of young female tennis stars credited with re-energizing the women's game, she championed for equal pay in the sport in the press, much like Billie Jean King did in the 1970s. "It was important to make sure the public saw us as equal," she says, "and to make sure the prize money was the same amount as the men's."

At the heart of the debate over equal pay in tennis were critics who charged that women should get less because they play less—women play best-of-three sets per match while men play best-of-five. Williams didn't buy it. "We were more than happy to play five sets if that's what it took," she says. (Tennis officials balk at letting women play five sets, she says, because it would extend the tournament's time on TV.) The women persisted, and finally, in 2007, the French Open and Wimbledon caved, offering men and women the same award. "It's not about female or male—it's about tennis," says Williams. "Why should someone be given less because of her sex?" —Yael Kohen

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SARAH JESSICA PARKER

Marie Claire: What was your toughest negotiation?

Sarah Jessica Parker: I was brought in to help run a fashion company for about a year (although I don't want to name names). I was shocked to experience an old-fashioned attitude about women and business: Women had titles but were treated as figureheads. So it wasn't one negotiation, but an ongoing negotiation to make clear that my voice was just as important, and that if they wanted me to be an active participant, it had to be an open conversation.

MC: How did you deal with it?

SJP: I was on the executives constantly. I would get on the phone and say, "Hello, Sir A, I just had a conversation with Sir B. You need to know that X information was shared. We all have to be candid with each other. I don't feel comfortable with any sidebar conversations."

MC: Did you seek any outside advice?

SJP: I called my lawyer and agent on occasion. But I'm not a little girl; I can't call Mommy and Daddy all the time. If I take on a responsibility, I want to handle it with the authority given to me.

MC: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

SJP: I would've been stronger. At first you say, "This must be some kind of dysfunctional workplace I can whip into shape." But cultures are very hard to undo. I probably would've said, "This is what I've witnessed and this is what I know we need to fix. If it can't be fixed, we should all shake hands and go our separate ways."

SARAH JESSICA'S NEGOTIATION GUIDE:

EDUCATE YOURSELF. "I like to have every bit of information at my fingertips. I spend the 15 minutes before complicated business conversations going over important bullet points."

LISTEN. "I'm genuinely interested in how the other side responds. I like to hear what's important to them, their circumstances, and information they have that I might not."

DON'T HOLD GRUDGES. "If you're going to be resentful about that final agreement, then don't do it—you'll always feel taken advantage of. You have to go into a [working relationship] feeling good about where both parties arrive." —Y.K.

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KATIE COURIC

"When I was offered the job at the Today show in 1991 as the full-time coanchor, I told the then president of NBC News, Michael Gartner, that I really didn't want the job if it wasn't going to be a 50/50 division of labor between Bryant Gumbel, the show's anchor at the time, and me. I didn't want to be relegated to all the soft stories involving cooking and lifestyle. I had worked hard to establish myself as a credible journalist: I'd covered the Pentagon and local news for many years, and I didn't want to be seen as the girly sidekick who couldn't handle the tough interviews.

The conversation with Michael followed a turbulent time on the show: I'd filled in for Deborah Norville during her maternity leave, and I thought I had a fresh face that would help the Today show turn the page. So perhaps I had more leverage in terms of asking for what I wanted. Michael came back to me and said, 'How about 52/48?' And I said, 'OK.' I felt it was a small but important victory, and it set the tone that I wanted. Bryant might have bristled a bit, but I think he respected the fact that I had worked hard and was willing to shake it up. At that time, I was less concerned with salary than with responsibility. [Gumbel was paid twice as much as Couric.] I was new and largely unproven. Rather than expect parity immediately, I thought, Let's see how it goes. As I became more successful, salary increases followed."

KATIE'S NEGOTIATION GUIDE:

BE DIRECT, BUT DON'T THREATEN. "I didn't say, 'I'm not staying here if this doesn't happen.' It was more, 'This is really important to me.' I delivered it in a strong and direct but appropriate tone. That's how I've always tried to operate."

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. "Every boss is different. You need to really understand the person—their likes, dislikes, how they feel. Do they spend 24/7 in the office? Then cater the negotiation with those things in mind." —As told to Y.K.

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TORY BURCH

Marie Claire: What was your toughest negotiation?

Tory Burch: When I launched my company, I went from factory to factory—in Rhode Island, China, India, and Brazil—with books of tear sheets and sketches. They didn't know who I was. I brought this concept, which was a retail store that felt more residential, and the idea of making beautifully designed, well-made clothing that didn't cost a fortune. To them, I was only opening one store and an e-commerce site, so it was not a lot of orders. I had to convince them that if they took a shot on us, we would remain with them long term. And many of the people whom we started with we're still with today, nine years later.

MC: Your husband at the time was well-established in retail as the cofounder of Eagle's Eye. Did you ask him for any negotiating tips?

TB: I didn't work with my ex-husband much in the beginning; I relied on Mona Wu, now my director of sourcing, who introduced me to her contacts. I learned to negotiate on the job. I didn't go to business school, and I certainly didn't have any design experience. I started off with an idea and surrounded myself with incredible people.

MC: Did you have to tweak your negotiating style depending on the country you were in?

TB: In China, it's a lot about relationships and getting to know people. There are a lot of long dinners. But in general, as a woman, I had to realize that you can't shy away from asking for what you want. —Y.K.

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

"Back in December 2010, I was trying to pass the 9/11 health bill [to expand health care for 9/11 first responders]. It was the hardest fight I've had in Congress. The bill had lingered in the House for eight years; it hadn't even had a hearing. The first responders told their stories about coming to ground zero, what it was like to breathe in fumes and horrible toxins, and how they're now suffering from grave illnesses. We were talking about heroes' lives. It was a story that I felt I had to tell. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, who fought so hard to receive funding for her Hurricane Katrina victims, said, 'Kirsten, the most important thing you can do is let people know how passionate you feel about this.'

A number of Republicans were very reluctant to support the bill and tried to get me to start over in the next session of Congress. But I stood my ground. If I'd tried that, I probably would've failed to pass it, because you need to keep up the momentum. My mother and grandmother taught me the greatest life lessons that I used during that fight: Never give up, and don't get discouraged. It took us two years to get that bill up for a vote, and we finally passed it unanimously." —As told to W.J.

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OUR SALARY NEGOTIATION GUIDE

The best way to fight back against the wage gap? Make sure you're paid what you deserve. M.J. Tocci, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women, and Evelyn Murphy and Annie Houle at The WAGE Project, a nonprofit that offers negotiation workshops for women, give their step-by-step process.

STEP 1: KNOW YOUR WORTH

You can use an online salary calculator as a starting point—try salary.com or glassdoor.com —but for a real sense of what your paycheck should look like, take a few trusted non-coworker mentors or former managers (both men and women) to coffee. Say, "I'm thinking about requesting a raise for X job. In your experience, what's the appropriate salary range for this position?"

STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR TIME WISELY

Managers can only work with a certain amount of money during annual review cycles. If you're asking for a small raise—anything less than $5,000—request it then. If you're asking for a larger amount, strategize your timing: Schedule a meeting off-cycle and after you've scored a big office win, like bringing in a new account or a game-changing grant. Frame it as a discussion about your work: "I'm excited about what my team has done this quarter, and I want to take this opportunity to talk about my career development and my future here at the company."

STEP 3: TRY IT OUT

Role-play your salary conversation with a trusted friend, partner, or family member. Tell the other person exactly what you're most afraid of hearing—"You don't deserve that salary" or "Why do you think we'd give you that?" The more you're able to practice responding directly to your fears, the less anxious you'll be before the big meeting.

Go into the meeting with two numbers in mind: a high target (your ideal salary) and a low (your walk-away number). Mentally prioritize a list of other benefits to request—your title, vacation time, stock options, retirement packages, and whether you have an office or a cubicle.

STEP 4: YOU'VE GOT THE MEETING!

Start with a well-rehearsed five-minute pitch. Include your accomplishments and the benefits you've brought to the company; what you're paid now; and what your salary range should be, according to your well-sourced research. Let them give you a number first. (If you must throw out a number, offer your high target.) Don't use wishy-washy language, like "I really believe I deserve this" or "I know I'm not an expert, but …" Once you have an offer, ask for 24 to 48 hours to think about it. If they can't give you what you deserve, say, "I understand, but I'd like to come back in six months and ask again. What do I need to do to make that possible?"

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