Empowered for Equality: How Women Can Advocate for Their Worth at Work

workplace equality

An important fact can’t be ignored: There is a disparity between what women and men are paid in workplaces all over America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a woman working full time earns an average of 80.7 cents for every dollar a man earns. While progress has been made toward workplace equality, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that gender pay parity will not be reached until 2059: a shocking 40 years away.

However, there’s a lot more to workplace equality than simply giving pay raises and title advances. To learn more, we spoke with Lauren Hasson, founder of DevelopHer: an organization that helps empower women to own their outcomes, build outstanding careers and negotiate for the salaries they deserve. She shares some proactive ways companies can level the playing field — and women can advocate for themselves at work.

1. Engage workers with events and training

Clearly, treating all employees equally is the right thing to do. But beyond being ethical, it can also save your organization money. Hanson says that hiring and training a female worker, only to have her become disengaged and leave, ultimately costs much more than investing in employees from the get-go. So how can you make sure female workers feel valued?

Many companies give across-the-board raises, but these don’t speak to workers’ individual worth and contributions. Instead, Hasson suggests offering training on topics such as gender equality, salary negotiations and personal development geared toward female employees. This gives them the tools to advocate for themselves and their worth. 

To help with recruiting efforts, Hasson recommends a women’s hiring event. She describes an event she attended that was hosted by a company’s female employees, who held a panel for female applicants to ask questions about workplace life.

Another way to raise awareness about workplace equality and self-advocacy is to bring in outside speakers who focus on these topics. When workers feel their value is recognized, engagement and loyalty tend to increase.

2. Make advocacy discussions a two-way street

Hasson says that women can, and should, speak out for what they need. 

“The employee is part of this equation,” Hasson adds. “It’s not only on the company [and] on society to fix.” 

Of course, speaking up isn’t always easy for groups who haven’t been given a platform in the past — and employers must create an environment where women feel empowered to approach them. 

Discussions between workers and managers should always be a two-way dialogue, Hasson says, where both feel comfortable giving and asking for positive feedback. To encourage an open and honest exchange, she suggests an exercise where each party asks how they’re doing at providing value to the other. She calls this holding up a “social mirror” to reality. 

To ensure they’re creating a supportive environment for female employees, Hasson also encourages employers to solicit feedback in an anonymous survey where they ask, “How are we doing with workplace equality and empowerment?” Then, note any areas for improvement and work toward positive change. 

3. Ground yourself in data

Both employers and employees must have done their research when entering into salary and/or title conversations, says Hasson, noting that “the data is out there, but you have to be willing to go look for it.” 

She encourages both parties to find five to seven data sources that compare similar positions at different companies within the same city, then take the median salary across those sources. Of course, it’s important to ensure that the data you’re using is accurate and coming from trusted sources, such as news publications or academic journals. 

In addition to looking at multiple sources, Hasson stresses the importance of finding a salary benchmark — and to find a true benchmark, female employees need to look at male salaries, too. Due to the gender pay gap, only comparing figures with other women may not accurately reflect a job’s true value.

Hasson gives an example: “If the market value [of a job] is $100,000, [but] one woman is paid $80,000 and another woman is paid $60,000, and the woman who is paid $80,000 shares her salary with [the woman who is paid] $60,000, she just normalizes getting underpaid — and now they’re both underpaid.” 

Hasson also notes that knowing when you can no longer offer or receive more is key for informed, productive conversations. If a female employee has to end a discussion, Hasson suggests they see this not as walking away, but rather as walking toward their value and owning their worth.

4. Proactively give positive feedback

Conversations around career development are often focused on things that need to improve, but Hasson sees this as a backward approach. As the saying goes, you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. What’s more, if employees don’t know what they’re doing right, they may not keep doing it.

Hasson encourages managers to be more forthcoming with positive feedback, highlighting areas of progress and showing appreciation for workers’ contributions. In turn, women workers should actively seek feedback on what they’re doing well.

“When I got hired at my current role and was in the office meeting my boss, … I asked him point blank: …‘What made you want to hire me over everyone else?’ And what he said was totally different from what I thought I got hired on,” Hasson says. “You know what I did? I tripled down on that. We need to build women up, and we need to share with them where they’re adding value.” 

Letting someone know they’re adding value reinforces this behavior, she notes, “and who doesn’t want more of a value-add?” 

Empower workers for equality

There are historical reasons that certain groups in America have different opportunities than others. But employers can help combat this by hiring more women and offering equal opportunities for pay and advancement. She suggests offering advocacy-focused training; giving proactive, positive feedback; asking for input from female employees; and doing your research on salaries.

If employers don’t have a diversity and inclusion team, Hasson says, they should bring in outside speakers and experts “to show women what’s possible … [and] really get them excited and moving forward.” 

To female employees, she has a clear and empowering message: “Do not wait for someone to fix your situation. If you want it, take ownership of your outcome.”

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