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What Four Women Did When They Found Out They Were Making Less Money Than the Guys

TFW making money moves is a systemic problem.

You probably know by now that women make less money than men do—80 cents to the dollar on average, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. And the numbers are even more dismal for women of color: Black women make 61 cents for every dollar a man makes, while Latina women make 53 cents.

Want to know if you're one of these underpaid women? In honor of Equal Pay Day, start by hitting up your work husband or banding together with female colleagues to get them to share information about what guys they know (in your field) are making.

Having this knowledge is the first step to doing something about it: When one 34-year-old woman who works in advertising recently found out she was making half as much as her male coworker (*faints*), she was galvanized: "I feel like I'm armed with knowledge I can use to better negotiate for myself," she says. "Like, I'm ready to go to war. Let's do this."

Here's what four other women did when they learned they were being paid less than the guys.

The digital media writer who demanded $10,000 more—and got it.

What she knew:

Almost a year after I started working at a digital startup, my bosses hired one of our male interns to work with us full-time. He had less experience than I did. One day, he mentioned off-hand what his salary would be. I was shocked to realize it was $10,000 more than mine.

What she did:

I sat my bosses down and said, “I understand that someone more junior than me has been brought in at this salary and I’m really disappointed. I would like this to be reconciled.” They blamed it on a new hiring system, so I said, “Sure, but then my salary needs to be adjusted accordingly.”

How it worked out:

They agreed and gave me a $10,000 raise so that the guy and I made the same amount. It was still a little annoying because he was younger than me and had less experience. But I was proud of myself for being in spitfire mode and asking for more. I would have been so resentful working there otherwise.

The tech employee who's still fighting for her worth.

What she knew:

I’ve worked at my company for almost six years and it’s widely known internally that it’s difficult to get raises. Over the years I’ve had conversations—tough ones!—about my worth and I recently got to a place where they gave me a 15 percent raise. I was really excited about that!

But a week later, my team had an outing where alcohol was involved. I was sharing a cab home with a male coworker who has my same title. We do the same work, but he's only been at the company for about a year, and has three years less experience than I do. He asked me if I knew how our company determined salaries and I said no. He then said, “I’m happy to share mine and talk about it.” Boozy me was like, yeah great, obviously expecting that his would be lower than mine. But he told me he started at $90k and was now making $105k. I was still only making $90k—after my 15 percent raise.

In the moment, I was really embarrassed. He was clearly surprised when I told him my salary; it was uncomfortable. My first thought was I wish I didn’t know this information. But then I realized it was something I needed to hear. I always suspected I was being paid below market and now I knew for certain.

What she did:

During a regularly scheduled check-in with my boss, I said, “Someone on the team told me, unprompted, how much they were making and I was really surprised to hear that it was $15k more than I make. I’ve been here longer and we do the same work. I want to understand why there is such a big gap.” I also said, “I want to make sure I’m valued. Maybe that means understanding why there’s a gap and knowing what I need to do to close it.”

How it worked out:

My boss and I have a really good relationship and she said that she wanted me to know that I was valued and she would bring it up to our HR department and our CFO. But I’m still waiting to hear. The whole thing has made me feel uncomfortable for weeks. I’ve even started doing some freelance consulting work on the side just because I wanted to confirm that my skills are marketable. I’ve learned that they are—very much so—and that has given me more confidence.

The political assistant who stayed silent—and now regrets it.

What she knew:

As a black woman, I always assume I'm making less than other people for societal reasons. But in my first real job, on Capitol Hill, I learned exactly how much less, since all the salaries are actually public. At the time, I was making $23,000, and I found out through the public database that there were white women making between $3,000 and $5,000 more than me in the same job, which is a lot of money to be missing when you start out that low. Meanwhile there were men making $10,000 more than me.

I was a black woman who had just gotten out of college and was starting off with everybody else who had also just gotten out of college, but I was making less than everybody else. That's something I still think about all the time.

What she did:

I wanted to fight back but I don't think I had the tools back then. I didn't know how to negotiate salaries. I was a lower-level person in the office, so I thought that I should prove myself by doing more at the job.

How it worked out:

I loved my work on the Hill but not seeing women of color in leadership positions like they are now contributed to me leaving that job. I only stayed one year.

Now I run my own non-profit to end gun violence and I'm a part of a couple of communities, led by or with women of color or allies, where if you're sending around job descriptions they have to have salary ranges on them. This is really helpful for women of color and women in general. Looking back I wish I had known that the range for a staff assistant was $23,000-$30,000 so I could have asked for $30,000 up-front. Or after six months I could have gone in and said, "I think I've gone really good work and here's why and I think I deserve a raise because of XYZ."

The biggest thing I tell my staff now is, if you're working with a boss, that boss has been negotiated with before so you shouldn't feel like y0u're the first person on earth to ever ask for a raise.

The elementary school teacher who found a new damn job.

What she knew:

I was working at a private elementary school that had only one male teacher. He was a great teacher, and great with the kids. But he was younger than me and didn’t have a master’s degree (I have two), nor did he have a background in education. He and I became friendly and were talking one day. I got up the courage to ask him what salary they started him at, and it was $20,000 more than my starting rate. I couldn’t believe it.

What she did:

I arranged a discrete meeting with the head of the school and asked for a raise.

How it worked out:

She looked me dead in the eye and told me they don’t offer raises, just 3 percent cost of living increases each year. So I asked, “Well, how come there is a man here here making significantly more money?” She told me that wasn't true. Either she was lying or he was. I chose to believe him.

After that, I was so pissed that I used up my remaining sick days to interview for other jobs. I ended up getting one that pays 30 percent more. I know I am a talented teacher and I wanted to go somewhere where I would be valued and paid accordingly. I now feel like I am.