We know that women, on average, earn less than men. And we’ve heard the reasons for the discrepancy — mainly due to women stepping out of the workforce for maternity leave and childrearing.
Sometimes, however, employers simply choose to pay their male and female workers differently for doing the same role. So, what do you do if this is happening to you?
The outcome you don’t hear about
Two years ago, I discovered that the men at my level were earning a lot more than I was. Angry, I took to Google to understand what I could do to get my employer to address this imbalance. I found a number of stories of high-profile court cases that went on for years. I found horror stories of women who raised the issue with their manager and found themselves berated or even out of a job.
What I didn’t find were stories about the third outcome: settlement. This is because nearly all settlements include the requirement to sign a non-disclosure agreement, unless the law specifically bars the company from doing so.
In short, the company agrees to pay the woman, but in exchange, she has to agree to stay silent.
I am one of the silenced winners
I fought for equal pay and won a settlement, signing away my voice in exchange for money. I cannot tell you my name or my employer, so I asked HerMoney if I could anonymously share my advice. (Read more about my experience here.)
My hope is that these anonymous posts will help other women in the same predicament understand what they can do to fight for equal pay.
Tip 1: Size up the pay imbalance early on
The first step in any equal pay claim is to understand, in real terms, how your salary compares to your male counterpart. The law requires businesses to pay men and women the same salary if they do the same, or equivalent work.
In my case, I picked the man with the same job title, who had similar budget responsibilities and a similarly sized team. We attended the same meetings and were often tasked to work together on projects.
Once I identified the person, I asked him how my salary compared to his own. I was upfront about my earnings, asking him if the difference was slight or sizable. His answer let me know whether it was worth continuing on.
Tip 2: Gather evidence
The hardest part of an equal pay claim can be trying to prove that two jobs are equivalent, particularly if you have a management role where each person’s responsibilities are somewhat different.
Before speaking to anyone, I stockpiled old emails, official meeting minutes, job reviews and anything else I could find that might be used as evidence. My fear was that my company would put me on leave as soon as I filed a claim, so I wanted to have everything I needed before then. I printed hard copies and emailed myself what files I could. I later gave all of this to my lawyer as background information.
Tip 3: Speak to an employment lawyer
I cannot stress how important it is to speak to a legal advisor as early on in the process as possible. Many employment and/or civil rights’ lawyers will offer a first, advisory meeting for free. Take advantage of this to discuss the background for your claim, your likelihood to win (or settle) and what it will cost you to move forward. Make sure you speak to an expert in either employment or civil rights law — don’t ask your criminal lawyer friend for advice.
Tip 4: Do not leave your job
This was the hardest part of the process for me. However, my employment lawyer made me stay put, reminding me that out of sight was out of mind. You need to keep showing up, working hard and performing at the same level as you have been all along. If your employer or coworkers make your working life miserable, speak to your lawyer.
Tip 5: Do not disparage your employer
If your goal is to reach a settlement, you need to stay as silent as you can throughout the entire process.
There were days when I wanted to protest in front of the building, or blast them on social media, but I didn’t. I did, however, share quotes, memes and stories about equal pay and women’s rights on social media, showing my support for the topic with no suggestion that my employer did not.
Later I had to delete those posts as part of my settlement agreement. However, those posts helped keep the pressure on my employer along the way. Every supportive comment, like and share was a reminder of how damaging a court case would be to their brand. If in doubt, ask your lawyer for guidance before you post or say anything.
My final tip is to hold your head high and remember that you have done nothing wrong. Channel the strength of women around the world and know that you are fighting as much for them as for yourself. No one should suffer from discrimination. Those of us who can afford to speak up against it, should do so. This is the only way to force a change.
(Editor’s note: This story is published anonymously at the author’s request in order to comply with her settlement agreement. “This is my way of regaining my voice and helping other women who might be going through the same,” she says. If you have experienced gender discrimination and want to share your story with the HerMoney community, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
More on HerMoney:
- I Had to Fight For Equal Pay — and I Won’t Be Silenced
- Podcast: How to Close the Gender Pay Gap Once and For All
- How to Ask for a Raise
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