I wish that this article were being published in the midst of a controversy. That today’s mark on the calendar was one of hot cultural debate, one that pressed our buttons and caused us to stir as a country. Today is Equal Pay Day, the day a woman has to work until in order to earn the same salary as a man did the year before. It’s 2015—how is this something we are comfortable with?
We at Levo have been surprised and confused by the lack of urgency surrounding this day. And when we dug deeper, the facts were even more puzzling.
Our internal research found that Millennial women don’t feel that the pay gap statistics—78 cents to the dollar to as narrow as 91 cents to the dollar—apply to us anymore.
But facts are facts: a woman who leaves business school already experiences a 7 percent wage gap upon graduation. I was saddened to discover that at Stanford, which I have nothing but gratitude toward for one of the most incredible experiences of my life, the gap is closer to 21 percent.
And that gap only widens over time as the likelihood of asking for a raise decreases as she progresses over the course of her career. A woman who doesn’t negotiate her salary in her first job will lose an average of $431,000 by the time she’s 65.
Why does this wage gap exist? What is the exact right number to be talking about? Is it structural, or are women to blame for not exercising the right behaviors? Often times, the conversation around Equal Pay goes down a rabbit hole around this topic and we miss the point. The point is that the wage gap exists no matter how you cut it, and that the reason for its existence is multifactorial.
As institutions, let’s do a better job at evaluating ourselves internally to ensure that we are not perpetrating the wage gap without being aware of it. Here are some companies that we salute for caring enough about equal pay for equal work to pause and take a look internally. If your institution wants to join, let us know.
As managers, we recommend going through a simple exercise as a litmus test for whether you are unknowingly propagating these behaviors on your team.
As individuals, we professional women need to learn how to raise our hands and ask for more throughout our careers.
On that last note, the research demonstrates that the wage gap is not just about money. We are seeing the surface manifestation of a deep-seated fear around being inconvenient or too aggressive and making the asks that we need in order to be successful.
The wage gap is about learning to flex our asking muscles, and we aren’t getting in shape fast enough. When we surveyed 10,000 of our Levo members (comprised mainly of Gen Y women in the first 10 years of their careers), we found that 95 percent had never asked for anything in their careers. No responsibility, no mentorship, no raise.
You might think that you are immune to this issue, but you are contributing to it somehow. The key is figuring out how.
If you are a manager, consider taking the test.
If you are in a position of leadership, consider evaluating how your company allocates responsibility and compensation to your high performing employees. Then apply a gender lens and see how the picture changes.
If you are a professional woman, first and foremost find out how much you should be making on average for your job and location–you can see how you stack up to your peers using Bureau of Labor Statistics data here. You don’t get what you deserve–it would be amazing if life worked out that way. Doing great work and putting your head down will not get you your just reward.
Let’s learn how to share your successes and ask for what you need in order to be able to perform–take the time to follow this personalized action plan to juice up your asking muscle.
So what are you waiting for?
Let’s make this article a relic of an old-fashioned time when we decided half of our workforce working for free for 57 days a year was unworthy of a concerted cry.
To learn more about Equal Pay Day and Levo’s #ask4more campaign, click here.
This article originally appeared on ForbesWoman.