With new salary range laws rolling out across the US, experts say that pay transparency is a leading tool for narrowing the gender pay gap. To achieve pay equity for all workers, they add, organizations need to implement system-wide changes to fight pay inequity, like conducting comprehensive pay audits that identify existing gaps and offering better caregiving policies that combat the motherhood penalty.
But while it’s not on women to out-earn the gender pay gap, experts do say there are ways they can use salary transparency as a tool for negotiating better salaries. Here’s how.
1. Use salary transparency to inform your value—not define it. “We put a heavy reliance on organizations to let us know what they think our worth is,” said Latesha Byrd, CEO of the talent development agency Perfeqta. “But we also need to have in mind what we believe our value is to the market.”
Byrd calls this your fair market value. As you consider a role, ask yourself: How does my experience and my skill set translate to a fair salary? This should be completely independent of your current pay, according to Byrd. And it should be informed by research into what other companies are paying for similar roles in your industry, along with talking to your network, colleagues and community.
2. Calculate your cost of living to see if the range fits. “Something we lose when we have marketplace conversations about a role is what our life costs,” said Samantha Ghanie, a financial resource manager at the nonprofit COOP; she works with first-generation and low-income college graduates to close employment and pay gaps.
“Someone who has a child and is sending money back home to help out with Grandma does not have the same expenses as someone who got lucky, has no student loans, and is able to only support one person,” she said. Doing intentional math around your living costs, both set and variable, can make salary needs more tangible. “It’s far more motivating [to negotiate effectively],” she said.
3. Even with a salary range, practice naming numbers. Generally, Ghanie said, women are more unwilling to say numbers in negotiations—even when salary ranges are explicit. So she advocates for practicing naming them, which she does with her clients. “Say $60,000. Say the words. You can’t say them without stuttering? You have to practice,” she said. “For the first three trials, [my women clients] usually fall apart. Then you see them start to straighten up, eyes brighten, and shoulders are back.” With a salary range helping inform your desired salary, this exercise builds conviction in it.
4. Know that while salary ranges may be set, additional skills can help you earn more. Because women tend to apply only to jobs they feel fully qualified for, Ghanie believes they make a mistake by not shaping job descriptions to their skillset.
For example, she said, speaking a second language doesn’t always translate to a bump in salary—but it should, as it adds to your value in new markets. Applied to a salary band, skills outside of a job description can be used to negotiate for the upper end of a range.
5. Once on the job, keep receipts. Recent research finds that salaries for new hires are 7% higher than those of current employees in similar roles—and in combination with pay inequities, that gap can widen. Byrd advocates for collecting evidence that you’re worth what you’re asking.
“What I mean by evidence is clear results, clear stories, things that tie that to how you helped your company make more money, maybe save money—quantifiable things,” she said. If you discover that an open role at your company is offering more money than you make (as some already have), you can use that evidence to advocate for a raise that closes the gap.
Salary transparency helps affirm what underpaid workers can ask for—and while it won’t end biases or close pay gaps alone, it’s another tool for them to negotiate towards more equitable salaries. But without a rock-solid commitment by organizations to work against systemic biases, workers alone will not be able to negotiate their way to pay equality, no matter how transparency laws aid them.