Six women recall when they found out they were getting paid less than their male coworkers

For years, Amy Cliett had a sneaking suspicion that the men in her office were getting paid more than she was to do the same job.

But it wasn’t until Cliett, an operations manager in the residential and commercial service industry, got a look at the company budgeting system that her fears were confirmed: Her salary was about 30 percent lower than her male counterparts’.

And if that weren’t bad enough, she ended up having to train some of those men — people who were making tens of thousands of dollars more than she was — and everyone who could see the budgeting system knew about the disparity.

Cliett, 39, of Swarthmore has since left the service industry for a national outreach role with education nonprofit TechGirlz.

That women make less than men is nothing new. Nationally, women with full-time jobs make 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men. That number is just slightly lower in Pennsylvania, where women make 79 cents for every dollar men are paid, and black and Hispanic women make even less (68 and 57 cents, respectively), though, notably, the gaps shrinks for women who are part of a union, according to a March report by the National Women’s Law Center.

The wage gap is a term that’s become widely embraced in the national conversation — Philadelphia even became the first city to pass a wage equity bill, though the city has not enforced the law since a suit was filed by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

But, as it is with any term that’s been popularized, sometimes it’s easy to forget the people behind the idea.

For Tuesday’s Equal Pay Day, created in 1996 to raise awareness about pay discrimination, here are stories from women who have experienced the wage gap firsthand — and what you should do if you find out you’re making less than your male coworkers.

Tiffany Tavarez, 35, vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo

“Ten years ago I had started a new job. On my first day, I was cleaning out the desk in my newly assigned office only to find that my predecessor left an old paystub. That is the first time I directly found out how much my male counterpart made. …

“Oddly enough, there was also a copy of his resume in the desk so I can see that our experience was comparable. I decided to speak to my supervisor about it, …

“During our conversation, she said she thought this role would be a ‘stretch’ for me, and therefore was providing me with opportunity to grow. I worked very hard in that role for three years, the longest anyone ever had under her leadership.”

Aigné S. Goldsby, 28, trial counsel at Liberty Mutual Insurance

“When negotiating my first job out of law school, the offer that they gave me was relatively low, but what I had heard from a friend who used to work there was that … you should be able to bring the salary up by at least $5,000. So I was relatively hopeful that I’d be able to negotiate the salary up.

“When I tried to negotiate my salary …, the partner just shut me down very quickly and told me there was no room for negotiation, and that if I wanted the position, I had to accept it as is. … I had no active income and desperately needed a job. So, even though I knew my offer was substantially lower than the male associate who had just left that same firm — the same male who told me I could successfully negotiate like he did — I took it. I ended up becoming the first black female associate they had hired.

“I worked for that firm roughly seven or eight months and after I left, I was talking to a former coworker who had also left … and he let it slip that he was making XYZ amount. Doing the math, I realized, ‘Hang on, so you were making this amount while we were working at the firm at the same time?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, weren’t you?’ I was very surprised. We had the same amount of legal experience when we were hired, I even graduated law school a semester early.”

Catherine Maloney, 34, industry adviser at SAP

“[At a past job], I was talking about salary with a male coworker and he said, ‘I would love to open the books and see the gender gap that we have.” Then he said, ‘Here’s what I think you should be making for this type of role.’ It was more than what I was making at the time. So I went back to my manager and asked for a raise. I got it.

“I never would’ve known there was a disparity if he hadn’t told me.”

Kathy Black, 68, retired, former health and safety director of AFSCME District Council 47

“I was hired as a secretary at the University of Oregon around 1980, working for a university-affiliated special-education project. While at the project, I was recruited to join the union (SEIU Local 503), which was beginning to work on a comparable-worth project to review the entire compensation system of state government.

“As [the comparable-worth project] unfolded, I learned that the guys who worked at the motor pool, who pumped gas, changed oil and were not required to be literate, made $5,000 more per year than I did as a multiskilled secretary in a very busy office that required manuscript typing, transcribing machine dictation, interaction with school districts up and down the West Coast, in Hawaii, and American Samoa. In 1980, that was big bucks.

“The study revealed disparities like this up and down the classification system. That is, jobs that were dominated by women made significantly less than those typically held by men.”

Melissa Shusterman, 50, video agency owner and candidate for Pa. State Representative in the 157th District

“I was working my second job out of college and happened to be working at a two-year college as an admissions representative.  The way this admissions team was organized mimicked a sales team. I was paid a specific amount of money (on the low end) to do my job but was offered bonuses when I achieved a certain level of success. An example of how one received a bonus was to be the top ‘sales’ person that month and enroll the most students in the school.

“Two months into the job, I was neck-and-neck with a seasoned male colleague who was 20 years my senior. By the end of the month, after hours of work and persistence, I was the top performer and I was excited to receive my cash bonus and television prize because I had expenses, debt, and really desired a television. I was summoned to my bosses’ offices and was told they would award the money and television to my colleague who came in second place because he has a wife, a family, and responsibilities and I was just a young girl and maybe my father could help me out.”

Want to know more about the wage gap? Check out the Philadelphia Commission on Women’s Equal Pay Day Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at 1319 Locust St., District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital Employees.

What to do if you find yourself in this position

Here are four steps to take, courtesy of Philadelphia-based women's leadership consultant Selena Rezvani.

Before anything, figure out how much people in your role usually make.

Don't want to ask your colleagues straight-up how much they're making? Try asking how much they're hoping to land in terms of a percentage of their raise or how much they made when they first started at the job. It helps, Rezvani said, if you have something to share, such as the latest salary report for your industry. Remember: Employers can't legally tell you not to discuss salary.

You can also check out industry data from trade associations, industry competitors, and websites such as Glassdoor and Payscale. If a headhunter calls you with an opportunity (even if you’re not interested), always talk to the person, as it's a great way to see what employers are offering right now.

Prep before you make your ask.

Schedule a meeting with your manager and figure out how you'll make a case for yourself. Data is important here, Rezvani says. Don't talk about what others are making. Instead, focus on yourself. Have a list of your accomplishments at the ready.

But make sure to give yourself time to prep.

"Even if you're rightfully enraged about being underpaid, a drive-by negotiation rarely ends up getting anyone the results they want," Rezvani says.

Figure out a plan in case you get a "no."

"If you get pushback, don't slink away defeated," Rezvani says. "Engage your boss and elongate the conversation. One woman executive I talked to described getting a 'no,' and then asking what, exactly, her boss needed that he wasn’t getting in terms of her skills. Pushing for that specific information, and then working on it, landed her a major promotion and pay raise not long thereafter."

If all else fails, you might need to get a lawyer.

If you feel you're being discriminated against, talk to an employment lawyer.

Do your due diligence and study the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's website (it's the agency that enforces the Equal Pay Act). Familiarize yourself with the Commission's rules: For example, if you want to allege discrimination, you have to compare yourself to another role that's considered "substantially equal."

Know that if you formally file a complaint, your name will be attached to it, Rezvani says. It's important to first read about others who have been through the process so that you can make an informed decision.