7 Tips for Improving Pay Equity

 Marketing Director   May 10, 2021  Pay Equity

Hand writing Pay Equity on piece of paper

Transparency in salaries and compensation is one way to help close the pay gaps that exist in the U.S. job market. On average, women only make 82 cents for every dollar that a man makes in 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic has set the participation of women in the labor force back more than 30 years. Unfortunately, employers are often reticent to disclose their budget in job ads, putting the burden of pay equity in the hands of the applicant and at the mercy of arbitrary biases.

Here are seven tips to help you decide your worth on the job market and have a better chance at closing the wage gap.


Learn to negotiate

From raising children to working in a team, negotiation is an essential skillset. If financial negotiation isn’t a skill that your background hasn’t already taught you, it’s essential that you both learn (and practice!) how to negotiate with money before you start sending in applications. To get started, try bargaining at the farmer’s market or ask for an extra 5% off that dress you’re about to buy. The key to negotiation is not trying to get the most out of a transaction but getting what you need; the first step to negotiation is to decide what it’s worth to you and what you’re willing to trade.

Learn what the position pays

The job ad might not give you a clue about what the position pays, but there are resources that can. At least two higher education-related associations—the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)—conduct regular surveys to track employee compensation. The AAUP Faculty Compensation Survey breaks data down by the institutional category, affiliation, region, and gender, as well as includes data for medical and retirement benefits. CUPA-HR publishes four reports each survey year with the data for faculty, professionals, administrators, and staff broken down by the position (tenure, adjunct, IT, athletics), institution type, and even demographics. CUPA-HR also publishes a separate Benefits in Higher Education Report that includes data for paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and retirement. Finally, sometimes there are community-maintained spreadsheets on pay data. If one isn’t available in a forum dedicated to your profession, try your own hand at “Google doc activism” to make pay more transparent and hopefully more equitable.

Estimate the cost of living

Compare the cost of living to the estimated pay before you apply. Is the salary a feasible amount to maintain your standard of living or at least close enough to be worth negotiating? If not, save your time and move on to the next ad.


Ask about the little things

Make sure that you understand the details that will either contribute, or take away from, your base pay. What benefits are available and what will they cost you? Do they have an insurance plan that will meet your needs? How much of the premium are you responsible for? Is the base salary for 12 or 9 months? Why and what responsibilities will be included (or excluded)? Make sure that you get documentation to help answer your questions and compare your options with other positions. Write notes and consider sending them in a follow up email to ask for corrections and/or clarification.

Ask about pay increases

Evidence suggests that while everyone is just as likely to ask for a raise, not everyone gets it. A PayScale survey of over 160,000 employees found that “Women of color were 19 percent less likely to have received a raise than white men, and men of color were 25 percent less likely.” With that in mind, ask about raises before you start the job. Get the specifics from your potential employer about when and how pay increases happen. Learn what the requirements are and who is responsible for initiating a raise.

Trust, but verify

Reach out to current and past employees of your potential employer to learn what the conditions are, as opposed to what they are supposed to be. Did pay raises happen regularly or hardly ever? Did workplace culture support or discourage the use of benefits?


Resist desperation

By this point, you should have a solid list of pros and cons as well as a good handle on potential finances. In the case that the math doesn’t add up and options seem few, resist the urge to accept an offer that doesn’t meet your needs. The stress of moving to take a position with a high financial burden will inevitably surpass the stress of waiting for the right job. The end result is likely to be another rushed job search under even greater stress.

See also: Equal Pay: How to gain ground in the changing equal pay landscape.

About the Author:  Dr. Ada Hagan is a microbiologist with a passion for making science accessible. In 2019, Dr. Hagan founded Alliance SciComm & Consulting, LLC as a means to use her strong background in communications and higher education to help make scientific concepts more easily understood and make the academy more inclusive to future scientists from all backgrounds. Her writing and research have been featured by BBC Radio 4, Science Careers, The Scientist, Massive Science, and the American Society for Microbiology.