Pay Equity & Negotiation: Knowing Your Worth

May 2, 2022 - Amanda Guinot Talbot, PhD

It's well known that when doing the same job, women are on average paid less than men - and for women of color, this gap is even more pronounced. So, how can women advocate for ourselves and each other when it comes to negotiating pay?

If thinking about this question gives you anxiety, have no fear - Anita Khushalani is here! Anita is an executive board member for the Women's Leadership Institute, as well as the founder and director of Worth Workplace Training LLC. A human resources expert, Anita joined the inaugural student cohort in March and gave a crash-course in the history of pay equity, as well as several tips and tricks for how each of us can advocate for better pay at the negotiation table. 

When approaching this issue, Anita emphasized the importance of knowing the policies in place that can both advance and inhibit women's ability to negotiate a higher salary. She offered a helpful timeline of the laws that have been passed throughout the last century:

  • 1963: The Equal Pay Act was passed, banning sex-based pay discrimination.
  • 1964: The Civil Rights Act was passed, which prohibited employment discrimination based on sex, including issues of promotion / termination discrepancies in addition to pay discrimination. This act also established the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handles claims of discrimination, and set the statute of limitations to file a claim as 180 days (or roughly six months).
  • 1979: Lilly Ledbetter discovered she was making less than her male counterparts and sued her employer, Goodyear. She lost the case because Goodyear made the argument that, since she was hired more than six months before she brought her case forward, she was past the statute of limitations. Unfortunately, the court agreed.
  • 2009: The Lilly Ledbetter Act was passed and established that each paycheck is a separate violation, which extends the statute of limitations for women who discover a pay discrepancy after six months of being hired to take action.
  • 2022: Salary transparency laws, which legally require employers to share salary levels for each position, are being enacted across the country, and are already instituted in states including California, Connecticut and Colorado. 

Armed with this information, Anita has several pieces of advice for women negotiating for higher salaries at both a new job or from their current employer. She encourages everyone to evaluate their qualifications in relation to the job description, and research market rates to set salary expectations (sites like or can help with this).

Headshot of AnitaAnita (pictured left) advises women in the negotiating room to focus on conveying the value they offer the company when asking for a higher starting salary, rather than focusing on their personal needs. "I've worked in HR for a few years, and I've had applicants say to me, 'Well, my rent is this and I have to pay alimony and child support, so I need a certain salary.' That didn't really convince me as an employer to come up to that level," explained Anita. 

"What the applicant needs and what the employer is willing to pay are two different things, so your job is to convince the employer to pay as much as they possibly can. And I think you're better able to advance that argument by talking about what you bring to the table, as well as your skills and experience and how they match with the job requirements - that is more compelling to an employer than the fact that gas is expensive these days."

Unfortunately, the negotiation doesn't end once women reach an initial deal with an employer: they also need to practice advocating for themselves throughout their career for promotions and coinciding raises. Anita has helpful advice in this area, too, and it starts with scheduling regular performance reviews to justify a salary increase.

"If you are negotiating for a promotion, discuss your performance and how you've already contributed to the organization. If the response you get is that your salary cannot be increased for budgetary reasons, ask about when you can expect a performance review down the road and ask for a commitment to review your performance and adjust your salary in six months. They may not have the money now, but you can revisit the issue in six months," Anita advised.

Finally, Anita encourages women to consider the entire offerings package instead of focusing on just the salary when negotiating with an organization. While the salary is undoubtedly important, other benefits - such as insurance coverage or paid time off - may positively impact an employee's quality of life more than a job offering more money but less benefits. 

"I worked in a law firm for a few years after college, and the salary level for that law firm was significantly higher than what lawyers were making in legal departments of corporations. It's a known fact that large law firms will pay more for the same experience than a legal department in a corporation, because generally, employees work less hours," Anita recalled. "So, when I left the law firm for a legal department, I took a substantial pay cut, but I was willing to do that because my quality of life was important to me and I felt was going to be a better fit for where I was in life at that moment."

While Anita's talk concluded the virtual lecture and discussion series for the inaugural student cohort, there was one more event scheduled for the cohort - an in-person workshop at the Cowles House! On April 22, the cohort students met at this historic campus location for the "How Women Rise" workshop led by alumna Stacy Sollenberger. 

Are you a current student interested in joining next year's cohort? Apply here today!