Limiting Yourself Can Mean Less Pay at Work

Dollar Bills and ChangeWhen I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, we heard a great deal about how men made more money than women for the same jobs. For some reason you hear very little about that these days, perhaps even leading to a belief that those days are over. Not so.

The 2008 data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics (the most recent available) shows that women now make 80 percent of what men make. In other words, if a man gets paid $1.00 for a job, a woman in that same position doing the exact same job would get 80 cents. It’s gotten better for sure. In 1979 a woman would have made just 62 cents to the man’s dollar. But it’s still not good enough.

It’s easy to assume the leadership of the organizations is to blame—those male-dominated management teams that don’t value women. But that would be an assumption. Here’s something else to consider: what if the women themselves are to blame? Mikelann Valterra, who runs the Women’s Earning Institute, was recently quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying “Women underprice themselves. In the workforce, they undervalue themselves more so than men.”

But listen to this 2008 U.S. Bureau of Labor data: If you just look at ages 16 to 24, young women earn 91 percent of what young men earn. You girls are just 9 cents shy of that guy working at the counter or desk next to you! So here is a theory I’d like to try. Maybe younger women haven’t suffered the discouragement of their older sisters. They don’t yet have a reason to undervalue themselves because they are new on this journey to learning the worth of who they are and what they have to offer the working world.

I have been a working woman in a highly competitive field for more than 20 years now. I’m often the only person in the room with a uterus. As a result of my journey, I can tell you young women to prepare for discouragement. But I can also tell you it’s not what you might think. The limits set on me have not been set by men, but nearly always by me—myself. Not believing in myself. Being intimidated by that man with the big voice who talks a lot and seems really smart. Hearing that gremlin in my head that constantly says “What are YOU doing here? What makes you think YOU deserve a seat at this table?”

I’ve heard Rachel Simmons say we need to put a BFF in our heads to encourage us and to fight back that gremlin. I’ve learned over the years how to invite in the BFF voice, but I am also blessed to have two BFFs as business partners who are that voice for me for real. We all need to find those people in our places of work.

Every one of us working women, whether we’re 16 or 26 or 42, is worthy. We deserve to be where we are or someone wouldn’t have given us the opportunity in the first place. Each of us needs to own that, to believe that we are the best person for the job—and nearly as important—to make sure the people around us know it too. That includes the people who decide what to pay us.

Mikelann Valterra also said in the Chronicle interview that “We don’t want to be pushy, we don’t want to rock the boat…In 2009 that hasn’t changed in our DNA.”

I’d like to change that, starting with me, and starting with you. Let’s change the DNA. Let’s act like women who are worthy of earning the full dollar. Let’s work harder and more confidently than ever. And when payday comes, let’s put out our hands and politely demand that full dollar that’s owed to us.


Stacy Pena is the mother of a sixth-grade girl and third-grade boy and is on the board of Girls Leadership Institute. She also blogs for Silicon Valley Moms Blog.

  1. Molly Davis

    Great piece, Stacy. It’s so true that having good fellow (or should I say “sister”?) business partners is a great way to get reminded of our strengths and talents. And boy do I like the idea of demanding that full dollar. A certain client comes to mind…. 😉


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