Most young women graduating from Wright State University hope that their college degree will earn them a good salary.
Unfortunately, research shows that a woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man with the same qualifications makes, doing exactly the same job.
A group of passionate women at Wright State has been working to close that wage gap by teaching salary negotiation using the WAGE Project’s $tart $mart curriculum.
The WAGE Project, whose acronym stands for Women Are Getting Even, provides the research and the PowerPoint presentations, but Wright State’s facilitators bring the enthusiasm.
“A lot of us would like to win the lottery,” says Amber Vlasnik, director of the Women’s Center and one of Wright State’s $tart $mart facilitators. “This is a way you can win the lottery, and it’s actually something you can control.”
Vlasnik worked with Cheryl Krueger, director of Career Services, during the April 11 workshop, to teach a group of young women about the wage gap and how to bargain for a better salary.
Vlasnik started out with the startling statistic that women college graduates will earn $1.2 million less over their careers than men with the same degree.
“I don’t know about each of you,” she said to participants, “but if I sit there and think about it, I can certainly say I want my million dollars.”
Vlasnik pointed out that while a small difference between a man’s starting salary and a woman’s may not seem critical, it is the basis for all future bonuses and pay raises. The discrepancies add up, she said.
Krueger then took the floor to offer some solutions. She urged students to visit the Office of Career Services, where they could find staff to advise them on developing resumes, cover letters and salary negotiation tactics.
One of Krueger’s main points was that applicants for a job should always do their homework. They need to make a budget of their expenses and research the average salary for the position they have been offered, so that come time for negotiation they will know how much money they need and how much they can reasonably expect to get.
Krueger also encouraged students to play up their strong points in interviews and negotiations.
“To be able to negotiate your salary, you have to be able to sell yourself,” she said. “Selling ourselves is difficult. It’s putting a pat on your own back, but it’s really important.”
At the end of the workshop, students got a chance to practice self-marketing in a role-playing in which they had to convince their peers, posing as employers, to give them a higher salary.
Workshop participants fill out entry and exit surveys quizzing them on their confidence about salary negotiations. Stephanie Spencer, a career counselor and assistant director of Career Services, and the coordinator of $tart $mart programs at Wright State, says that from the data collected from these surveys, $tart $mart does participants a world of good in just two hours.
Usually, Spencer says, “at least one person in every workshop will say ‘I didn’t even know I was allowed to negotiate.’ A lot of women don’t even know it’s an option.”
While the $tart $mart workshop is not intended to turn novices into negotiation experts, it does have a tangible effect. The data shows that while most participants initially said they would be “uncomfortable” negotiating their salary and benefits, after the workshop, they would be “comfortable.”
Before the workshop, only 38 percent of participants said they would negotiate salary and benefits. After, 96 percent said they would.
Only 7 percent of participants said they knew how to benchmark a salary before attending $tart $mart. Afterwards, that statistic rocketed to 100 percent.
“It’s not about being an expert,” says Spencer, “it’s about confidence.” She adds that even if students are unsuccessful when they try to negotiate salaries, it’s still a positive result because they attempted to negotiate.
“That’s our goal,” she says, “to get people to even know that they can, and to try.”
The next $tart $mart workshop will be held on May 10. The workshop is free, and preregistration is required. For more information, contact the Office of Career Services at (937) 775-2556.