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May 16, 2013

Level the Paying Field

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, a landmark law promising pay parity for women. Fifty years later, we're still making only 77 cents to a man's dollar. Why? And can we do anything about it? (Short answer: Yes, we can!)

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Photo Credit: AP Photo

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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. —Whitney Joiner


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