Equal Pay For Women through Personal Branding
For the last three-odd decades, I’ve been reading remarkably similar stories about how the equal pay gap has not closed for women. A recent report, based on a US study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, claimed that women would not see equal pay until 2059. Not in my lifetime, then.
When you think it can’t get any worse, the report predicts that for women of color, equal pay is even further away. Black women will have to wait until 2124 for equal pay. The Hispanic women will have to wait until 2248 to reach pay equality with white men. I have read many opinions that try to explain away these facts. Many suggest, rather insultingly, that this gap may not be the result of gender differences but rather the result of differences in skill and experience.
Right. So how does that match up with the fact that in the US, male nurses earn an average of $5,000 more yearly than women, even though women make up the majority in the field? Does that mean those fewer men are vastly more intelligent and experienced than the more women working alongside them? I doubt it.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) estimates that women earn, on average, 15.3% less than men – $1,387 per week compared with $1,638 – and that this gap has remained largely unchanged for 20 years.
Given such seemingly insurmountable indifference to equal pay for equal work, it’s time women looked closely at their roles in the business world. Women can’t control their salary levels in many fields, but that doesn’t mean they should give up and quietly wait for things to change. Women can and must start negotiating change if they want to see their careers advance and for us to have any hope of real change in the future.
How do they do this? By repositioning and/or rebranding.
Rebrand to strengthen your negotiating position
Personal branding is a key way to maximize your power and assertiveness. It is a way to capitalize on your potential and your choices in life.
Your brand already exists; what is missing is the personal branding ‘system.’ Successful brands we are all familiar with, like Oprah, Arianna Huffington, and Lady Gaga, even with all their talents and fame, have constantly and systematically reinvented themselves during their careers. Applying similar strategies to incredible ‘everyday’ people who reinvent themselves to become extraordinary leaders in their specific markets is possible.
It is a sad fact of professional life that women (especially mothers) must prove their worth in a way men are not. But just because women have lost their rights does not mean they should allow themselves to become victims. It is why they must fight against being characterized this way.
One oft-cited explanation for the gender pay gap is that, compared with men, women either do not negotiate their salary or are unsuccessful when they do.
The problem is that negotiation is a skill that fits well with traditionally masculine traits such as confidence and assertiveness. At the same time, a woman who works away quietly and unnoticed conforms nicely to the feminine stereotype of a selfless caregiver. On the other hand, a woman who asks for her due can appear as demanding and self-seeking. In short, she is likely to be labeled a nagging bitch.
A study by economics and management researchers Christine L. Exley, Muriel Niederle, and Lise Vesterlund offered an alternative way to look at this negotiation discrepancy, finding that women seem more likely than men to predict when negotiations will or will not work in their favor. This study would suggest not that women are bad at negotiating but that they are smarter at it – knowing when success is near and going for it.
So what made the women studied confident that their company would see their value and view their negotiations favorably?
One very important aspect is that these women knew the strength of their reputations. How did they build that reputation in the first place? Like Oprah, Arianna Huffington, and others they built their reputation through skillful, authentic branding.
When all the doors close… try the window
You can be ‘unknown’ to the world and still win respect and renown amongst those you know and work with. In fact, what is networking or reference-checking, if not asking people about a stranger and discovering their local fame? Branding can work on many scales – just as a small company may choose to direct its marketing efforts only to its local area, personal branding can work for you in your niche, and it doesn’t mean you aspire to be bigger than Lady Gaga.
So how do businesswomen, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs tackle branding? What is different from the path taken by celebrities?
She is a senior executive with a company that makes and distributes educational resources for primary schools. She joined the company as an office worker and rose to join the decision-makers. After Alicia had children, she worked part-time for five years until her two kids reached school age. Then, she realized her career had stalled. It was almost as though her ‘mother’ status had canceled out her ‘executive’ status. She could not qualify for promotion and eventually considered leaving the company.
It wasn’t until Alicia realized that her role had narrowed and the company no longer had strong expectations of her performance that she understood it was essential to rebrand herself. She decided to change direction and become the ‘go-to’ person for specialized educational materials for home-schooling parents. Her new self-created role inspired much interest and eventually increased profitability for the company. The repositioning succeeded because Alicia invented a role that others in the company had never considered. Five years on, Alicia is a shareholder in the top three leadership positions of the company.
Cyndi was the middle manager of a traditional, family-owned fashion manufacturer. They made quality clothes but needed help to compete against cheap overseas imports. When the owners decided to compete on price, Cyndi knew it wouldn’t work. The inevitable happened, and the company began to flounder. Still, instead of giving up, Cindi persuaded a group of workers and some of her business contacts to help her to purchase the warehouse and materials. By obtaining finance through a women’s banking group, she managed to keep the business going. Today, the slimmed-down, mainly female workforce designs and makes exclusive designer gowns for those who appreciate their quality and unique designs.
Both Alicia and Cyndi took a risk. Because they felt powerless in their roles, they had to make huge leaps to place themselves as power brokers. In both these cases, they reclaimed their power and, via successful rebranding, changed their mindsets of themselves and their colleagues. But why did these two women succeed where others failed? One thing Alicia and Cyndi had in common was a mindset of ‘abundance,’ NOT ‘scarcity.’
Cultivating an abundance mindset
With a scarcity mindset, people believe there is never enough (not enough customers, business opportunities, and money) to go around. They start to believe that they must swoop in and grab all they can before somebody else takes it. And, once they have it, they must hold on tight for fear of losing what they have gained. Not the most balanced way to live.
Just because women hear that there is not enough room for them. Not enough in the budget for a salary increase. Not enough seats at the table. Doesn’t mean they have to believe it. The good news is that there IS enough to go around. Once you adopt this view, you will see opportunities and what you can uniquely contribute to the marketplace. You move from a ‘victimized’ mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance.
In October of last year, when Lisa Wilkinson left Australian national broadcaster Channel Nine and the Today Show, the debate surrounding her departure perfectly illustrated a scarcity mindset. At the time, Lisa’s co-host Karl Stefanovic expected to earn at least AU$2 million a year with a potential bonus. It could take his salary to nearly AU$ 3 million if ratings were high.
Lisa Wilkinson appears to have been on a contract worth AU$ 1.1 million a year.
However, when Wilkinson walked away, it didn’t take long for the popular opinion backlash to hit. Her critics described her as soulless and money-hungry, with news sources citing that; “her multimillion-dollar demands would have caused 10 of her Channel Nine colleagues to lose their jobs.”
Channel Nine focused squarely on scarcity, insisting that there was no more money. A few days later, comedian and radio host Dave Hughes took a pay cut to ensure his female co-host Kate Langbroek received pay parity in a move that put pay to this idea. Hughes’ actions showed that there is not a problem of scarcity but rather a problem of distribution.
Lisa Wilkinson saw the unequal distribution in her workplace. In contrast to her employers’ scarcity mindset, her actions illustrated an abundance mindset. Wilkinson knew there were opportunities elsewhere, so instead of clinging in fear to a position where she no longer felt appreciated, she packed up and left to seek greener pastures.
Now, I’m not advocating that you quit your job (unless you have other good reasons to do so), and very few co-workers would ever make the kind of sacrifice Hughes made for Langbroek. But I suggest that when you think about your branding, you don’t do so with fear and a mindset of scarcity. Do so with a mindset of abundance.
So why am I suggesting women rebrand?
Because women have extraordinary potential in addition to their skills and experience. We may still have a long way to go for equality. However, my experience supporting many extraordinary women tells me the scope to transform your career. It is now the most opportune time in memory. So why wait till 2059 (or beyond) to get what you rightly deserve? The right time is NOW!
* Alicia and Cyndi are fictional names and have been changed to protect privacy.