New research released this week by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation found that just one year out of college, women working full time already earned less than their male colleagues, even when they worked in the same field. And the pay gap widens 10 years after graduation, according to the findings.
Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood and other factors known to affect earnings, the report, titled "Behind the Pay Gap," indicates that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained and is likely due to sex discrimination. To read the full report, visit the American Association of University Women online.
We know that a wage gap may be traced in part to the negotiation process, which is something that each of us has the ability to control.
Men are more than four times more likely than women to negotiate a salary, which typically translates to more money in their pockets. An employer may offer the same starting salary to both a man and a woman for the same position, but more times than not, the man will negotiate and the woman won't.
No employer has an obligation to whisper in the woman's ear, "Hey, you know, you just lost out on more money because you didn't speak up." If she accepts the salary offered, so be it. But the consequences of failing to negotiate a first salary can lead women to lose more than $500,000 by age 60.
It's up to each woman -- no matter what her career stage, industry or position -- to speak up and negotiate for herself.
Here are some tips on how to make sure you're making the most of the negotiation process:
Commit to negotiating. Whether by nature or nurture, we're somehow conditioned to believe that nice girls don't talk about money. The reality is that smart girls do. So the first step is saying to yourself, "I will have a voice in the process. I will not be silent with regard to my compensation."
Beyond that, tell yourself that you'll do all the homework necessary to get comfortable with negotiating. However, recognize that some people will never be completely comfortable with this topic. So even in the absence of total comfort, commit to speaking up even if you're shy because frankly you work too hard not to speak up.
Research salary data. Use online tools (salary.com and payscale.com are two resources), as well as salary data compiled by industry-specific associations, career services and alumni relations, to get a sense of what a position should pay based on industry, geography, size of company, level of experience and education.
You can also ask the hiring manager where the offer you receive falls in relation to the pay range for the same or similar positions within the company. Sometimes this information won't be provided. Avoid getting defensive if they say it's confidential.
Talk to peers in the same industry to find out what they say is the going rate, but do so with a grain of salt. Sometimes even our pals overstate what they earn, so use that information sparingly.
All of this salary information arms you with the knowledge you need to have an intelligent conversation. You can't ask for more money if you don't even know what the position should pay relative to your experience.
Remove the emotion. Women often shy away from negotiating because we don't want someone to dislike us. We worry that our future employer will think, "Oh, she hasn't even started yet, and she's already demanding things."
Negotiating salary isn't about being well-liked or disliked. It's about speaking up to receive fair compensation based on the position you're being asked to perform. It's not about popularity, it's about performance. Focus on the professional, not the personal.
Similarly, women will often tell me -- or they'll say that that their friends or family tell them -- "Just be thankful for the salary. Don't rock the boat." They're gun shy because they want the job so badly.
You won't lose a job offer because you negotiate fairly. (Clearly, if you make outrageous demands that are unrealistic based on what you bring to the position, you may risk losing it. This is where research is invaluable.)
In fact, the majority of employers expect you to speak up. So instead of listening only to the naysayers who hold you back -- or the voice of doubt in your head -- surround yourself with a cheerleader too.
Anticipate the opposition. Figure out all of the reasons why the decision maker might say no and prepare your responses. This helps avoid looking like a deer in the headlights. A common objection: "This is all we budgeted for." To that you might ask for a signing bonus or guaranteed salary review or year-end bonus at a specific time.
Another no: "Your salary history doesn't dictate a higher starting salary here." Your possible response: "The demands of this new role and the challenges and goals I will be expected to meet do warrant a higher base, especially with the skills and experience I bring to the position." This is also the time to address any differences in company size, location or industry that could impact your case for a higher starting salary.
Negotiate as if it's for someone else. Women are awesome when it comes to asking people to make donations to charity. Women have no trouble haggling at a flea market -- especially when a friend wants a good buy on something. But when it comes to speaking up for yourselves -- specially asking for money and benefits for us -- women tend to shy away. We don't want to come across as conceited, demanding or difficult. So we simply accept what's offered.
If that's you, then pretend you're speaking up for your best friend, your daughter or the person you care most about in the world. You know you'd want her to get the most, so you're likely to do a stellar job on her behalf.
One final thought: keep in mind that the company made you an offer, so clearly they want you and they value your skills and experience. That, too, should boost your confidence going into any negotiation conversation!
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com.