By now, most of us have heard the hullabaloo (yes, I said hullabaloo—it’s a perfectly acceptable word) surrounding the AVMA New Graduate Starting Salary Calculator. The tool, designed to assist new graduates in figuring out a reasonable salary to negotiate for, factors in variables such as geographic location, age, public vs private practice, and the biggie—gender. Yes, even in a field that is increasingly female dominated, a significant gender wage gap still exists.
The AVMA has come out clarifying what I think most of us already knew—they were not condoning, or advocating for female veterinarians to make less than their male counterparts, they were simply representing the historic data. Some people were, nevertheless, concerned that having the gender gap factored into the calculator would lead to just that—acceptance. Employers might use it to discriminate against women. Women might do the calculations and just accept that is what they are worth. Well, I disagree.
Ignoring a problem does nothing to fix it, and this calculator has brought a very real issue to the forefront of our professions collective minds. I am sure many of us would like to assume that we’re above the biases that still face the rest of the world. Our profession is mostly women now, we wouldn’t discriminate against our own.
The truth is, despite the evidence—$2406.97 a year worth of evidence—I’d still like to believe that. We are not consciously setting out to pay women less. Gone is the Mad Men era where hiring women is looked at as a chance to save the company money. The problem is much deeper in our subconscious and unless we acknowledge it, we cannot take the necessary steps to correct it.
The reasons this gap still exists are multifactorial, but one reason is that women don’t ask for more. One study of students graduating with a master’s degree from Carnegie Melon show that 57% of males but only 7% of females tried to negotiate a higher salary for their first jobs (Babcock and Laschever, Women Don’t Ask,1-2) As Sheryl Sandberg states in Lean In I (read it, it’s awesome) this is not solely the burden of women. We live in a society where women are expected to be more concerned with others than ourselves, and we are often looked on as self-serving by asking for more. Trying to negotiate a higher salary can easily backfire by making us less likeable to both men and women.
When Jennifer Lawrence found out she was making far less than her male co-stars, she wrote an essay explaining, “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early… I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’” And do you know what happened after she released that essay? Most people got behind her, but a few called her a spoiled brat. Point proven.
As women, we need to stop being afraid to stand up for ourselves. There may be a price to pay if we do. Some people may not like us. They may think we’re entitled, or bossy, or just plain unlikable. So what? The only way to get passed that bias is through it. The problem is, many of us don’t even know we’re doing it. Now we do. And now we can go into negotiations armed with the facts. We know what we’ve historically been worth, and we know what we should be worth, and now we can stop accepting less.