April 7, 2017

Mainebiz panelists offer solutions to continuing gender wage gap

Photo / Rebekah Roy
Photo / Rebekah Roy
Panelists discuss solutions for women to close the wage gap at Mainebiz's Women's Leadership Forum, held Thursday morning at the University of Southern Maine's Abromson Center in Portland.

Keys to a successful negotiation

Barbara Babkirk, a master career counselor and principal at Heart At Work Associates, a career counseling and outplacement firm in Portland, offered these tips for "crafting your professional value statement," which she said is the key to a successful negotiation for a higher salary or promotion:

Address the following topics:

  1. The primary skills that you can prove you've demonstrated AND which you enjoy (e.g., analyzing data, managing budgets, supervising a team, writing grants).

  2. List the key issues or problems that you have addressed by using your primary skills.

  3. Write a one-to-three-sentence summary of the impact you've made in your various work roles.

  4. When you think about work, no matter the role, what stands out about how you typically act and/or what you naturally do even if you're not asked?

  5. What are the your three areas of competence or expertise (that you can back up with examples if asked)?

  6. In a sentence or a phrase, what is the overall impact of your work or what is it that you do? (E.g., Offering unique strategies to preserve or build wealth; driving higher efficiency with lower operating costs; bringing strategy and insight to pivotal conversations).

Source: Heart at Work Associates

Women are less likely than men to receive equal pay, promotions, choice assignments, jobs perks, mentoring and other opportunities to advance their careers.

That's the consensus of panelists speaking at Thursday's Women's Leadership forum hosted by Mainebiz at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Panelists were: Anne-Marie Storey, an attorney practicing employment law at Rudman Winchell; Barbara Babkirk, a master career counselor and principal at Heart At Work Associates, a career counseling and outplacement firm in Portland; Dawn Harmon, a director and shareholder at Perkins Thompson, specializing in employment law; and Joan Fortin, a shareholder and the director of attorney recruiting at Bernstein Shur.

They spoke to the trends they're seeing in workplaces in Maine.

Factors in the gender wage gap

Despite federal legislation enacted in the 1960s to prevent pay discrimination by gender, the latest studies show women working the same jobs as men are paid on average 80% or less than what men are paid, affecting both immediate income and retirement savings. The pay gap emerges right out of college.

These situations tend to be indirect, said Storey, and might include factors such as lack of coherent promotion policies that might favor male employees, especially if the promoter is male. Some companies give preference to veterans, who tend to be male.

Another example is when an employer posts job requirements but, in speaking with applicants, considers qualities that go beyond the posted requirements. For women, who remain society's primary caregivers and often step out of the workforce to raise children, that could be a disadvantage over male colleagues who stayed in the workforce.

Babkirk said women often don't understand the market value of their work and tend to request lower starting salaries than men, or are likely to accept the employer's first offer, whereas men negotiate for more — and most employers expect to negotiate.

"Women are reticent to rock the boat," Babkirk said.

Women are also generally more reluctant than men to value their skills and recognize them through concrete examples, said Babkirk, whose organization, Heart At Work Associates, developed a "professional value sheet" that helps workers determine the value of their skills as they navigate the market for raises, promotions, more vacation and other benefits.

Citing a book called "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide," by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, as a must-read, Fortin agreed that women tend not to negotiate for salaries, or ask for choice assignments, perks and raises. She cited a study mentioned in the book showing that eight times as many men as women graduating with master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated increased their starting salaries by about $4,000.

"Women are great at negotiating for others, but not for themselves," Fortin said.

As her firm's director of attorney recruiting, she said women are likely to accept the first offer put before them, whereas men are likely to push back and negotiate for more. She added that she's worked to eliminate gender gaps at her firm.

Child care can put women behind in jobs, retirement savings

Since most child care still falls to women, Fortin said employers must shift to greater work-at-home flexibility and move away from mandatory face time in order to not only keep women in the workforce but keep them in the loop for promotions and higher income levels.

"Women pay a high prices as society's caregivers," agreed Eliza Townsend, the executive director of the Maine Women's Lobby and the Maine Women's Policy Center.

Speaking to potential solutions, Townsend said that society must build different systems that allow women to attain and retain market value equal to men throughout their careers. New systems are needed, she said, to better support paid family leave, access to high-quality affordable child care, paid sick days, care for the elderly and equal pay.

Various bills are underway in Maine, she said, to support those systems. However, she noted, employers don't have to wait for legal action. They can offer, for example, a childcare stipend or on-site childcare.

Christina McAnuff, executive director of the Olympia Snowe Women's Leadership Institute, a nonprofit aimed at helping high school girls build leadership, collaboration and problem-solving skills, said mentorship is key for helping girls and women to understand how to advocate for themselves.

Jean Hoffman — founder and former president/CEO of Portland-based Putney Inc., a generic drug company for pets that was sold a year ago to Dechra Holdings US Inc., an Overland Park, Kan., subsidiary of UK-based Dechra Pharmaceuticals PLC, for $200 million in cash — advocated for the bigger picture.

Hoffman encouraged women to think strategically as key members driving the organization's performance. Promotions and raises come with great performance, she said.

"Think about how you can add value to get a bigger slice of the pie," she said. "Ultimately, money is just a manifestation of power."


Type your comment here:

Today's Poll Do you intend to spend your retirement years in Maine?<>
Most Popular on Facebook