Maricé Morales: Women Should Know Their Value in the Workplace

Montgomery County Councilmembers Evan Glass and Nancy Navarro join advocates supporting Glass' bill ensuring that applicants for county jobs won't have to disclose their prior salaries. Photo by Marice I. Morales

One of the challenges of the job application process is knowing what your “market value” is and being able to communicate that in a way that doesn’t turn off the person reviewing your application. Experts on the subject of self-promotion in men versus women say that we are still living in a society where women are more likely to praise the work of others before promoting their own work because doing so makes them uncomfortable.

Because our value is necessarily tied to how we evaluate our own performance and work product, women will choose to take the modesty route, making them less likely to push back on a first offer than men are. The practice of asking for salary history as a benchmark to peg salaries only perpetuates the already stark pay gap between men and women.

When it came to negotiating my own salary for my first legal job, I found that I was nervous about countering the employer’s initial offer with the fear that the offer would be rescinded altogether. Only after running my initial number by male friends with similar experience and skill sets, did I find the courage to send in a counteroffer.

Luckily, these men were open about their salaries and the bonus structures they set up with their respective employers. Without their guidance, I would have most likely left opportunities for higher pay on the table.

The three times I’ve relied on this circle of friends to dictate what I should be asking for and leveraging my particular strengths, employers met every single one of my requests. Of course, I conceded on many parts of my employment contract, but felt comfortable with what I walked away with. In every instance, my friends would have asked $10,000-$25,000 more than the original counter offer I had in mind! I found myself sick to my stomach just waiting to hear back from the employer – because I felt that I had strayed far, far away from what my gut feeling had been.

Maricé I. Morales

I noticed early on that in lieu of disclosing my previous salary, communicating my salary expectations along with an explanation would get me closer to what my trusted circle of friends believed my market value was. To satisfy my self-imposed guilt for asking for more than my gut was telling me, I opted to send an addendum justifying the amount I was asking for.

By not knowing what their market value is, coupled with the tendency of being less likely to self-promote, women are inadvertently positioned to earn less. This is an opportunity for good government to step in and cure this unfair practice.

Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass is introducing the Montgomery County Pay Equity Act to ensure that that no one applying for a county government position will be forced to disclose what they were making at their previous job. Glass’s office reviewed the salary disparities between men and women employed by the county. The results uncovered a significant pay gap in department managerial positions, finding that in the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, the female worker earns 66.8 percent of her male counterpart’s salary.

“Even in a progressive jurisdiction like Montgomery County, there is a stark pay gap between employees of different genders in the same grade levels, and I find that completely unacceptable,” Glass said.

At a news conference in the councilmember’s office, supporters ranged from national women’s economic justice policy groups to county labor organizations including SEIU Local 500 and representatives from the Montgomery County Commission for Women (CFW).

“The commission supports hiring practices that determine salary by using an applicant’s skills, experience and responsibility rather than using arbitrary factors like previous earnings,” asserted Nicole Drew, president of the Montgomery Commission for Women.

The bill would also require a bi-annual report on gender pay equity among county employees beginning in 2022. The legislation currently has the endorsement of every councilmember, including County Council President Nancy Navarro, currently the only woman serving on the council.

“The Council has in prior years passed legislation to address pay equity issues among county contractors, but it is disappointing to uncover that no one was analyzing gender disparities among county workers,” Navarro said. “This bill can hopefully begin to correct this wrong within our own county government.”

While this is a great start, legislation limiting this practice to protect not only county employees, but those in all sectors is needed. As of now, Montgomery County would be the first in the nation to pass this local legislation if successful this year. Currently New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York and Michigan have already passed a version of this bill. And only a handful of localities are introducing similar legislation this year including New Orleans, Salt Lake City and the District of Columbia.

Here’s to a day when women can trust that their workplace value will be fairly assessed and can apply for jobs without the fear of being offered a lower salary simply based on their gender.

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