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Bridging the pay gap between genders

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Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation at, likens it to home buying.

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How do you compare one home to another when determining value? "There are questions on whether one owner took better care than the other or modified it. Or one is in a better location than the other. It's very hard to compare," Coleman says.

Of course, not everyone goes along with these rationalizations about why women get paid less.

Evelyn Murphy, author of "Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men and What to Do About It," is among the dissenters. "The pay gap has nothing to do with qualifications, experience or commitment to the workplace. Women are being treated unfairly," she says.

It's a complicated issue, but women (or men, for that matter) who feel they are underpaid can take steps to improve their situations.

Is there a problem?
Before you go to your company with charges that you are underpaid, you need to do your homework. Salaries by occupation and region can be found on such sites as Also compare your wage to the published pay rates in the job classifieds. Finally you can ask friends and co-employees what they are being paid. Because money is often a taboo subject, Coleman of recommends indirectly asking the question. Instead of asking "What do you make?" change it to, "What does someone with a job like yours usually get paid?"

Even if you do see a disparity between your salary and those of your colleagues, make sure you understand the possible reasons behind it before you make any serious allegations.

What to do about it
If your wage gap doesn't pass the smell test, see if other women in your company are faced with the same issue and enlist their help. It's a lot harder to refute a group's charge of sexual discrimination in pay than one sole employee's complaint.

Whether you're on your own or with a group, your next step should be to meet with your immediate supervisor or your human resources department manager to examine the wage disparity. Coleman says it might be easier to meet with the H.R. person rather than your boss -- especially if your boss was instrumental in the decision about your salary.

Next: "Why be a dental hygienist when you can be a dentist?"
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Negotiate your way to fair pay
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