Negotiating the Gender Pay Gap:

Why Hashtags aren’t Quite Enough.


(Excerpt from the soon to be published book Hashtags Aren’t Enough: A Girlfriend’s Guide to Showing Up and Conquering the Leadership Crisis)


“I always thought that there was nothing an anti feminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg


           The gender wage gap has been on my mind for some time. Last December, I was scrolling through the various news feeds, and desperate for a reprieve from the politics of the day, I browsed the entertainment section, only to come face to face with some cold hard gender politics. Award-winning actress, Michelle Williams, made approximately 0.7% of what her supporting co-star, Mark Wahlberg made for reshoots of the Ridley Scott film All the Money in the World (the irony of the title doesn’t pass me by). Williams was the star of the film. She carried the story. Yet she made $1,000 dollars to his $1.5 million. That’s a huge pay disparity.

           The gender wage gap is not an isolated incident in the entertainment industry (or any industry). Claire Foy, who played Queen Elizabeth II in the television drama The Crown (and won a Golden Globe for her performance) made LESS than Matt Smith, who played her husband. The woman playing the titular character, whom the show revolves around, made less than the man playing second fiddle! Off with his head! (Oh, wait, wrong queen). Multi-Oscar winning actresses, Jennifer Lawrence, and Amy Adams made less than their male co-stars, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner for American Hustle.

My latest find, just yesterday, was an article on the highest paid television actors. Hurray for the male cast of The Big Bang Theory. All four male leads making between $23.5 and $26 million dollars per year for the show. It made me wonder what Mayim Bialik, one of the main female leads is making on the same show. Forbes provided the answer; $12 million dollars. Yes, almost 50% less. Blossom is getting screwed!   



  The stories of pay disparity in the entertainment world could easily be minimized as “Hollywood problems,” but the sober reality is that the gender wage gap exists in every industry. Studies show that on average, white women in the United States make approximately 80 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Women of color make significantly less than white women. Women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and underrepresented in high wage jobs. And globally, women make 57% less than men. Numerous data supports the claim that women working full-time in the business world, where we find many of the high paying jobs, earn about 78 cents to their male counterparts dollar.


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All this inequality got me thinking about hashtags. Because who doesn’t think about hashtags on the daily? But seriously, the past year we have seen how hashtags can bring about social awareness for important topics. Actress Alyssa Milano shared her experience of sexual assault on Twitter, then encouraged people who had also been sexually assaulted to reply to her tweet with a #MeToo, a movement founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006. After Milano’s tweet, a social phenomenon began with people all over the world speaking out about sexual assault and harassment. #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #Blacklivesmatter have brought about viral awareness for the social causes of sexual assault, harassment in the workplace, and the violent and systemic racism against black people. The hashtag is galvanizing women and men all over the world to verbalize injustices they had dared not express before, including #GenderPayGap.

But now what? Hashtags have been vital to building awareness for critical issues, and awareness is the first step towards change, but where do we go from here? #Whatsnext? I ask you this because it’s in my nature to fix things. See, I’m a Leadership Effectiveness Guru and Corporate Fixer. I go into businesses and fix things that aren’t working. Think of me as Olivia Pope, but for business clients (and without the need for violence and sexy affairs). So, how do we fix the gender pay gap? I’ve come up with just a few actions that we can START doing today to make a difference.


Critical actions women need to START doing immediately to help negotiate the gender gap:


  1. Educate ourselves! Learn why we have gender pay disparity, so we don’t repeat the past.

  2. Commit to speaking up and galvanize others to do the same, even at the risk of upsetting the status quo.

  3. Celebrate the companies that are committed to eradicating gender wage disparity.

  4. Arm ourselves with facts so we know, and can negotiate our value, from a position of power.


Step One

The first item on the list is to educate ourselves. In order to understand the gender pay gap, we need to understand the system that creates inequality. That system is patriarchy—a social construction in which men maintain power through the subordination of other men, women, and “non-traditional” gender identities. In patriarchies, women are at a disadvantage socially, politically, and economically because they are not given the same privileges as men.

All of this patriarchy stuff began a long, long time ago. Historians have contrasting views about the birth of patriarchy, but it’s been the prevalent mode of life for thousands of years. Men have historically maintained power through centuries of dominance, oftentimes violent aggression, against men and women. Examples of this are wars, burning women as witches, domestic violence, and slavery. For many hundreds of years, women were looked upon as commodities, to be given away, traded, or sold for land, offspring, or wealth. It’s the age-old, “I’ll give you my virgin daughter for six camels and a plot of land,” bit. Women have subsequently succumb to patriarchal rule as a means of protection against… men!

Along with their violent grab for power, men have historically maintained the status quo through an artificially created division of labor. Men were the breadwinners and women took care of the children and the home. This forced women to depend on men economically. Another method of subduing women’s power was not allowing them the same educational opportunities as men. Many women all over the world still continue to struggle for education equality. Denying someone an education, considering their worth to only be that of a caregiver, we have, for centuries, systematically placed women at a disadvantage.

In the Forbes article about wage disparity called “The Real Origins Of The Gender Pay Gap--And How We Can Turn It Around,” author Meghan Casserly describes presenting her mother with two imaginary candidates to hire for a teaching position, a man and a woman with equal qualifications. Her mother was in a pickle. On one hand, her mother worried that the man would not make enough to support his family, and on the other hand, she worried that the woman would take time off to get married and have kids. Casserly writes, “... the subtle sexism at play in employment or salary decisions for men and women began to get clearer. A male employee is considered a breadwinner who should be valued--even above his pay grade--where a woman is at many turns a liability. As a result, across industries and education levels, it shows in their paychecks.”

In an article, Casserly shares the telling results of an annual survey that asks MBA candidates what they think they will earn at their first job out of school. Every female student reported that they expected their first paycheck to be approximately $7,000 less than the male students. Casserly goes on to say that female students aren’t just pulling these numbers out of thin air. The expected MBA annual salary for women is considerably less money a year than their male counterparts.

Men and women contribute to the system of patriarchy. We can’t help ourselves sometimes. Patriarchy has been normalized for thousands of years. We see the effects of this system in the job opportunities allotted to women, and a generalized pay disparity across the board. So, now that we have a better understanding of the roots of gender pay disparity, what can we do? The step is to speak up and get your friends on board.



Step TWO

Speak up about wage inequality and get your coworkers to do the same. Be a team! Is it such a radical idea that we have each other’s backs on getting equal pay? Once upon a time, in a magical land called Hollywood, the cast of a hit television show called Friends banded together for equal pay. During the second season, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston were making more money than the rest of the cast. When salary negotiations began for the third season, Schwimmer and Aniston agreed to a salary cut so that everyone in the cast would get equal pay. If producers didn’t agree to equal pay for every cast member moving forward, they would all quit. Now those are some hard-core, supportive, team players! As a result, by the end of the run, they were all making a whopping 1 million dollars per episode. Co-workers, in all labor industries, must learn to support one another and sometimes make sacrifices, in a unified fight for equal pay.



The third action is to learn from the companies who are successfully closing the gender pay gap. If we study who is doing it right, we can discover a working model that all companies can use to fix wage disparity. In my quest to find a blueprint, I did a little research on the companies that have women’s backs.

StarbucksGood ol’ Starbucks has achieved 100% equal pay across race and gender. How did they do this? For the past ten years they have focused on equalizing compensation. And just as important, they focused on the behaviors and systemic problems that create the wage gap, like educational opportunities, supporting women who need pregnancy leave, retirement and investment plans, and tuition reimbursement.

SalesforceIn 2016, Salesforce, a cloud computing company, was one of more than 100 companies to sign Obama’s Equal Pay Pledge, agreeing to conduct gender pay analyses every year in order to close the gap and eradicate bias in hiring and promotions. One of the ways that Salesforce works on closing the gap is by making “equality” one of their core values. And core values start at the top. The CEO, Marc Benioff, calls for all CEOs to step up and take action against the gender wage gap. The company understands that closing the gap takes constant study and work. Salesforce spends millions every year conducting assessments of how their employees are paid, finding the pay disparity, and fixing the problem.

Adobe – Computer software company, Adobe, also took the Equal Pay Pledge and has eradicated the gender wage gap. The company has made gender equality a long-term commitment, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good business. Adobe’s blog sites a study that shows companies with the greatest number of women are more likely to introduce more radical innovations into the market. For a technology company like Adobe, innovation is the key to success. Adobe is not only focused on closing the gender wage gap, but also fixing the system that creates the gap. Adobe does this by committing to the next generation of female employees. Adobe has given $3.5 million to youth tech programs, including Girls Who Code. They also started the Abode Digital Academy, which teaches people in lower-opportunity job fields (women and people of color) to move into the tech world. The company has also committed to hiring a diverse workforce by improving their hiring practices by training HR managers to break through unconscious sexist and racist bias.


What did all these rockstar companies do first and foremost to make a change? What is the blueprint that other companies can follow to eradicate the gender wage gap? First, they became aware of their ingrained bias against women that is embedded in patriarchy, then consciously decided to make equality are part of their culture. They continuously put time and money into finding problem areas and fixing them. All these companies understand that closing the gap will take constant hard work and upkeep.



We need to arm ourselves with facts about salaries so we can negotiate our value from a position of power. How can we do this?


  1. Know your value. What are THREE unique things that you bring to your role in the company that enhances the performance of the organization. Write them down. Talk to your mentor(s) about them. Run them past you co-workers. Gain agreement about them from your boss.

  2. Look it up. Do research about wages and salary using  crowd-sourced information websites like: Glassdoor, Indeed, Payscale, Salaryexpert, Salarylist, Fairygodboss.

  3. Print out market and pay data information as proof in case someone wants to low-ball you.

  4. Ask your male co-workers to help you. If they tell you their salaries you will be armed with the most critical piece of information. If that fails, ask your HR team if they see a gender pay gap at your organization.

  5. Learn how to successfully negotiate and practice!



To sum everything up, the gender pay gap is a reality in the lives of almost all women, and it’s something that we can indeed stop with a lot of hard work, as individuals and as a team. To think, all of this “disparity-talk” started with me thinking about hashtags. During the past year, many of us have become more aware of the gender wage gap because social injustices have been thrust into the public eye through these funny little catch phrases preceded by a pound sign. These hashtags have got me thinking about not only bringing awareness to pay disparity but how we can fix it. And we can fix this problem. We've seen it done with companies like Starbucks and Adobe. We can fix this problem by educating ourselves about the history of patriarchy. We can speak out about the pay gap and encourage our coworkers to do the same. We can encourage businesses to emulate companies that are fighting to end wage disparity. And finally, we can get the facts about what we are worth as employees, and negotiate pay based on our qualifications, not our gender. History has shown the great strides that women have made in the workplace. But history has also shown that we are still far from equality. Let’s put our big girl britches on, and work toward ending the gender wage gap once and for all.