Friday, February 23, 2007


So sorry for the posting lag!  It's a combination of computer troubles and getting ready to go on vacation.  I'm hoping to get a post I'm working on up tomorrow before I leave... otherwise, I'll be back March 5th.  Thanks for bearing with me!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Salary Negotiations and the Gender Gap

As you probably know, there is a serious gender gap in earnings in this country (and others). The average woman working full-time and year-round earns about 3/4 of what the average man does.

There are a lot of factors involved in the gap, of course-- an interlocking and reinforcing tangle of structural problems, sexism, and personal choice. It's near impossible to completely tease out the separate issues, but I hope to explore many of them in a series of posts, beginning with this one.

One part of the problem which I've been reading about lately is the difference in starting salaries between men and women-- and specifically, the impact of negotiating salary offers (or failing to do so). There are huge gender differences here. One study looked at a group of newly minted master's degree holders going out into the workforce, and found that 57 percent of men negotiated their starting salary while only 7 percent of women did. Those who negotiated increased their salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or $4,053. Because future salary growth is so tightly linked to initial salaries, this single initial difference can have tremendous consequences to the tune of $500,000 or more over a lifetime.

Clearly there are personal factors involved in whether you negotiate your salary. But the problem is much broader than blaming each individual person for not having the "courage" to ask for more. This is society-wide; 2.5 times more women than men feel "a great deal of apprehension" about negotiating, and studies consistently show that women expect to be paid less than men for the same jobs.

Part of this is a matter of internalized gender expectations. But part of it may also be a rational response to sexism in society-- some studies have shown that women who attempt to negotiate salary are viewed more negatively and are less likely to be hired than men who do the same.

So how do we deal with such massive inequities? You could look at it on the individual level, and try to encourage and coach women to have higher salary expectations and be better and more confident negotiators. (And there's nothing wrong with that.) But regardless of what each individual woman does, women in general-- and many men, too-- will continue to be penalized financially if they don't happen to have the combination of personality, skills, and knowledge that equip a person to negotiate a higher salary well, a set of qualities which don't necessarily indicate the person will be any better at their job (in most cases). And women will continue to face the catch-22 of being viewed more negatively if/when they do try to negotiate.

In my opinion, employers need to have much more consistent salary scales. I am thankful every day that I'm represented by a union-- for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that I'm both afraid of and bad at negotiating over salary. Instead of having to individually haggle over the dollars and cents I should be paid, I just need to make sure I'm in the highest job classification I'm qualified for, based on a clearly spelled out list of requirements and duties, and then I know I'm being fairly paid, just the same as everyone else who is doing the same work. But even in non-union workplaces, there's no reason salary scales can't work similarly, so that everyone with the same qualifications in the same job title-- regardless of gender, regardless of personal skill at negotiating and willingness to do so-- gets paid essentially the same amount.

How do we get there? Besides organizing unions (which I'm always a big fan of) or trying other ways to collectively push management/HR to implement consistent salary scales, another way is simply to try to break down the taboo against talking about salary within the workplace. When unfair salary discrepancies start getting out into the open, that can build pressure to find ways to fairly reward all workers for their skills and performance, rather than rewarding (mostly) men who happen to be willing and able to negotiate well for themselves. (There are also bigger legal/political strategies that I think should be pursued in this same vein.)

What do you think? I would really love to hear people's comments on your salary negotiating experiences (ID yourself by gender, if you wouldn't mind!) and on how your workplaces have addressed salary scales. Do you think the status quo is problematic? Do you think my suggestions are problematic? Do you have other ideas?

And keep an eye out for further posts looking at other pieces of the gender gap in wages!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Submit Now! Carnival of Ethics, Values & Personal Finance

Hurry up and submit to the bi-weekly Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance! It'll be up at An English Major's Major on Thursday. You can submit here or read more about it here. And let me know if you want to host!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Free Fair Trade Chocolate Tastings in DC!

If you're in the DC area, you're in luck. Divine Chocolate-- a company that not only uses fair trade cocoa in its chocolate, but is actually part-owned by the cocoa farmers-- is holding six different chocolate tastings in the upcoming week leading up to Valentine's Day. You can click here for more details. And if free chocolate weren't enough, at two of the tastings-- on Sunday in Alexandria, VA and Monday night in DC-- some of the cocoa farmers will be there making a presentation!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Apartment Upgrading 101, from my awesome commenters

I've gotten so much great feedback and wonderful suggestions in the comments to last week's post that I can't just leave them languishing away in the comments field-- I think they'd be really helpful to others in my shoes, too. You folks are incredible, thanks so much!

The overarching messages were to make changes based on what I want, and to take things slowly. There were also some terrific tips about what items to target, and ways to change rather than replace what I already have. Here are the highlights, but I encourage you to check out the full comment thread (and add your own comments there or here!)

  • gmv: "1) don't let others define your idea of what your material possessions are like and 2) when you get all that adult stuff, the thrill of it wears off really fast... If its furniture you are lacking, can you refurbish something you have with slipcovers or paint? Cheaper than new furniture. If it's artwork you lack, for not very much money you can replace your posters with some more grown-up art. It's amazing how far you can refurbish your look cheaply just by being mindful of the accessories of the room."
  • bluntmoney: "It doesn't matter if things don't "match" as long as they go together well (if that makes any sense.) I'd start by deciding what's most important to you, and what overall look you want to have if you decide to change the look of things. And remember to be flexible with buying pieces that will still go in a variety of environments, in case you move."
  • English Major: "I totally fantasize about learning to refinish yardsale furniture and making it into something unique and beautiful. I hope to have a whole living space full of projects--things I've invested time and energy (more of that than money) into."
  • ISPF: "I just want to warn you that if and when you decide to change your lifestyle, it will hit you like an avalanche. You will want to buy a lot of things at the same time. But if you take it slow, you will have stuff that you will admire and appreciate more and that changes with your changing tastes."
  • Madame X: "I think the key thing is not to worry about doing it all at once, as that will break the bank. You can gradually buy nicer things that will last, one at a time. There are also inexpensive ways you can make your space look a bit more grown-up without having to buy all new stuff-- keeping things neat, and maybe framing posters instead of just tacking them up, and some of the ideas that other commenters mentioned. It's also a good idea to keep an eye on Craigslist and similar sources-- I know people who have gotten very nice furniture just because someone was moving or downsizing and needed to get rid of it."
  • HC: "If you're going to upgrade, first upgrade the things you must have and can't cover. A well-made couch will elevate the whole room in the way a slipcover rescue version can't. Even a midgrade entertainment center can be a vast improvement on an older, cheaper one. On the flip side, plywood 3-leg side tables can look very nice if covered with a skirt. An older dining table can be dressed up with a nice table cloth. Most other things can be hidden behind screens (desks) or draped with blankets (chairs) to be spiffed up."
  • mara: "Posters, Christmas lights, beanbag chairs and sagging couches really scream "dorm room". Even with most of the same furniture and decorations, removing the aforementioned items can completely change the way your apartment looks to visitors. You can buy frames for your favorite posters and pass along the old ones. You can sometimes find quality wall decorations at thrift stores, or mat your own photos/illustrations... If your apartment has enough natural light, plants can give it an organic, homey feel."

My faves from the 2nd Carnival of Ethics, Values and PF

TBH did a fantastic job with the second edition of the Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance, which she posted yesterday morning. There were so many great posts included that it's hard to pick just a few to highlight-- so I highly recommend you click on over and read them all-- but here are some I really liked:

  • The Meaning Behind The Money-- An Exercise at The Money Tortoise: Some thought-provoking questions to help in financial planning to help support a meaningful life. "In my humble opinion, I think money should serve and support a great life (not the other way around), and in order for that to happen, you need to determine what the money is for. Or, put another way, you need to first figure out 'the meaning behind the money'."
  • The Virtue of Tipping at Personal Finance for Students and Fresh Grads: Is there a connection between being frugal and tipping waitstaff? "Being cheap does not mean you have taken frugal living to an extreme, but rather, it indicates that in your quest for being frugal, you have crossed the line that separates the decent from the not."
  • What Class Are You? by Paula at Queercents: A discussion about class, with some possible definitions, and some great comments. "In my feverish haze on the couch it got me to thinking, what really constitutes the lower, middle, and upper class anyway? And, what the hell is lower-middle, middle-middle, and upper-middle anyway?"
  • Ecotravel in tropical spots can make green travel feel like a luxury vacation at Luxury & Resort Travel: Some lovely ecotourism possibilities. "Fans of upscale vacations may feel the pull to give something back to lovely places that have provided great trips for them, but fear that green travel means no running water. And I know that's not much fun - but it's also an exaggeration... Ecotourism provides travelers with a way to see the world in sustainable ways. You can see the planet, and help save it too!"
  • Finding a balance between charitable, activist, and political giving at The 100 by 30 project: An interesting way to break down different types of giving. "I give to Vietnam Veterans of America, my local food bank, and the ACLU, all of which work on "helping the homeless" in one way or another. But no matter how hard the ACLU works on, say, advance notification for property sweeps, it's not going to put food in anyone's mouth tonight."
  • The greatest story ever sold is a fantasy covered in blood at Wise Bread: A ton of great myths and facts about diamonds. "The whole “A Diamond is Forever” and the idea of a diamond engagement ring is not an ancient tradition to be revered and followed. It is Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst.” It is Nike’s “Just Do It"... Conflict/blood diamonds are used by rebel groups to fuel conflict and civil wars, and by terrorist groups to finance their activities."
Whoops, I was trying to pick 2-3 favorite posts and I ended up with 6 (and left out at least 3 more I really wanted to link)! Just goes to show what a terrific carnival this is. (Also, while the specific submitted post didn't make it into my top-of-the-top this time, I encourage you to go visit The Picket Line, a fascinating blog.)

The carnival will be every other week, so the next edition will be on Thursday, February 15th, at An English Major's Money; submissions go here. And head to this link to read about the carnival and sign up to host!