I didn’t want more money—do you understand—I wanted equality," said veteran journalist Carrie Grace to BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour earlier this month. She was explaining why she turned down a salary increase and resigned as the public service broadcaster’s China editor. The proposed remuneration would have left her making less money than two male international editors in “the same jobs or jobs of equal value".

Gracie’s demand, which came days after Iceland became the first country in the world to announce an equal pay law, has revived discussion about its importance across the globe. As diversity consultant Nirmala Menon puts it, it was “good it happened, because it draws attention to the issue of pay gap and impels both women and organizations to begin a conversation about it".

It is a long overdue dialogue.

According to the Monster Salary Index (MSI) on gender for 2016, women in India earn 25% less than men. While factors like men having higher labour force participation rates, industry slotting of men and women into different roles and more women taking life stage-related breaks (marriage and maternity) contribute to this chasm, industry experts point out that there are other subtle prejudices at play too. “Men may vehemently deny it, but a bias exists," says Abdul Jaleel, vice-president, employee experience, Adobe Systems India. In September, Adobe India announced that it had achieved 99% gender parity in salaries. While overhauling the organizational processes to accomplish this, Jaleel says, “We found, I won’t use the word ‘discrimination’, but more of an unconscious bias, about a woman’s availability and willingness to be deployed productively, as compared to men, which exists in a manager’s mind and influences decisions about wages. Indirectly, that contributes to the salary gap as well."

Research shows the pay gap accelerates as women advance to middle and senior management, and after a certain level, it touches a glass ceiling. Amit Nandkeolyar, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, says the problem starts when a woman isn’t offered equal pay on her very first job. “Even a 1-2% differential, which does creep in at the starting level, compounds over a period of time," he says.

While the general consensus amongst experts is that companies do not intentionally discriminate against women, they continue to be paid less than men. Menon says this is “because women don’t ask for what they are worth". As a founder and chief executive officer of Bengaluru-based Interweave Consulting, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm, Menon feels this may be because many working women have not been exposed to discussions about salary or taught how to negotiate. She is, however, quick to point out that the tide is changing, “The younger generation of women are speaking up because the message now is that you are entitled to ask."

While the onus of ensuring that every employee has access to equal pay and opportunities lies with the organization, women can play an active role in closing the wage gap. So, if you think you’re making less than your male peers, here are some tips to build a case for equal pay:

Know your rights

The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 mandates equal pay for men and women for the same or similar work. “It’s outdated, but has the basic premise that will prevent discrimination on the basis of gender," says Paul Dupuis, managing director and chief executive officer, Randstad India. Though the Act is a comprehensive one, covering recruitment processes, training, and promotion, etc., it hasn’t been successfully used in India where suing someone is not the norm. Both Dupuis and Jaleel say the government should update the Act and ensure compliance. “Rather than putting the onus on the individual, we need a system to audit companies and ensure that they are honouring the law," says Dupuis.

Do your research

At Adobe, Jaleel says male employees were surprised to learn that a pay gap existed. In Menon’s experience, women themselves don’t realize they are being paid less than men. “If at all women discuss money, it’s with other women. And if women in general are being paid less, nothing seems amiss," she explains.

Employees, especially women, need to equip themselves with research. Surveys and white papers compiled by recruitment and compensation firms, peer-evaluated social media sites like Glassdoor, and college alumni are sources to tap. Base compensation discussions on this research instead of your current salary. “The question ‘what do you make now’ is irrelevant. It’s more about what is the market rate for someone with your talents," says Dupuis.

Be a fearless negotiator

There’s a common belief that women are poor at negotiating salaries, and much of that comes from personality traits that are self-sabotaging. Brought up to put other’s interests ahead of their own, a large number of women often feel paralysed asserting themselves, even when they are unhappy with the situation. “When it comes to doing it for the office or someone else, women are very good negotiators. They seem to have a problem when it comes to talking for themselves, as they don’t want to come across as selfish or unwomanly," says Menon.

A quick fix for that is to know that salary negotiations can be polite and diplomatic. Frame your response to an offer the right way—never go straight for the money. “You can say something like—‘I’m excited about this opportunity, I share your values and I’ve liked the people that I have met. I’m really motivated but there is one concern I have and that is the compensation’," says Dupuis. If the company says they don’t have the budget, Menon recommends—“Ask, ‘What do I need to do to be up to that level and earn that much?’ That way, you’re putting the onus back on the employer and registering the fact that you are unhappy with the offer."

If you have lowballed yourself into a poor salary, address it as you move ahead by mentioning that your current pay is not indicative of your skills. As for women coming back after a career gap, Dupuis says there is no reason not to make an argument about re-entering on an equal footing. “Some men may think it’s not fair, but that argument doesn’t hold strength because it’s essentially how that person can add value to your organization now."

don’t make it about gender

In an interview, don’t make it about your gender; prepare an argument based on why you think you are right for the role instead. Nandkeolyar says being perceived as competent is key. “Often, pay differentiation comes not because it’s a male and female thing, but because women don’t play up their confidence or talk about their achievements," he explains.

These tips can go a long way towards ensuring women are fairly paid, but organizations carry a huge responsibility to ensure this as well. While experts believe tactics like making salary data publicly available, introducing robust incentive plans like they have at Randstad India and fixing salaries to roles will make an impact, Menon cautions, “Companies that want to discriminate can work around it."

Acknowledging that there is a problem, however, is the first step towards levelling the playing field. “Everyone knows this gap exists but no one wants to talk about it. It’s important for the industry to take a stand on it and commit to action," says Jaleel.

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