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Suffering from Wage Gap Paranoia? You’re Not Alone

Career counselors pushed play on a PowerPoint detailing the striking differences in pay between male engineers and their female counterparts.
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The first time the wage gap became real to Amanda Nichols, she was at a Society for Women Engineers meeting in 2009, just before she got her first job. When she sat down for what she thought would be a simple talk about salary negotiation, the career counselors leading the meeting pushed play on a Powerpoint detailing the striking differences in pay between male engineers and their female counterparts. The women in the auditorium were urged to negotiate hard, even for their first job, or else pay the price later — literally.

 “The counselors flat out said: ‘Women don’t ask for more money and they end up making less,’” Nichols* says. “They stressed a lot that you can get raises year-over-year but if you start out making $10,000 less than you could have if you asked for it then that’s going to affect your salary for your whole life. That’s a lot of pressure at 21.”This was, frankly, something she hadn’t thought of before and the idea that salary negotiation was something you had to do before you even had experience seemed so… intense.

And this was before Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster Lean In came to be in 2013, launching a renaissance of discussion about the wage gap that has since invaded our cultural consciousness. If professional women didn’t get the memo that they need to negotiate harder, to ask — no demand — they be paid what they’re worth, as Nichols did, they have definitely gotten it now.

“If there’s a topic of conversation in the office around the espresso machine, it’s this,” says Marc Cenedella, CEO of Ladders, a career and recruiting site. “There’s a natural anxiety that goes along with am I keeping up with the Joneses that’s reflected in these gender conversations today for very good reason.”

Now, after seven years at a large aerospace company, Nichols, 29, is currently negotiating an offer from a competitor in Seattle. She knows what she’s worth, and so she’s doing as her male colleagues and everyone else in her life have suggested: Asking for way more than she thinks she’s even going to get.

The first thing she had to do was the application, which asked for her current salary and what salary she is looking for in her next role. “I have male friends who are like pump up your current base as much as possible, think of every possible perk at your job, and add it in,” she says. So even though she currently makes 116k in base salary, when you include her bonus and overtime, she makes about 130k. As for what she wants to make, she put down 150k. “Just writing 150 felt like, Whoa, but okay.”