Keeping Women in the Game

Soon after my daughter graduated from college she called with great news: she was offered a job working for a small law firm. She was thrilled because she was considering going to law school and the experience would be invaluable. In great detail she described the work she'd be doing, what the office looked like, the people she'd be working with, and that she would be able to ride her bike to work. I shared her enthusiasm - it was a great first job. I asked what she'd be earning and there was silence on the line. She didn't ask.

"I meant to ask," she reported. "But it was awkward." My friends reported the same kind of hesitation by their daughters when it came to talking about salary with potential employers. These smart young women assume that if they work hard their employers will reward them fairly.

Not so, according to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) that found that female new college graduates earn 17% less than their male counterparts. Starting salary for a new female graduate with a bachelor's degree in 2010 was $36,451, compared with the $44,159 her male counterpart averaged.

It has long been observed that women earn less than men - about 77 cents on the dollar, based on median annual earnings for full time, year round work according to Catalyst and the Wage Project.

What does the wage gap have to do with women on boards? It's possible that the wage gap contributes to the exodus of women in mid-level managerial positions. Disillusioned with corporate life, women leave to start entrepreneurial ventures or go into the nonprofit sector.  This situation concerns us because it means there will be fewer women working their way up the ranks and the pipeline of qualified women available to serve on boards will not grow.

To keep women in corporate positions, we need to encourage them to "hang on by their fingernails," said Sally Krawcheck in the Wall Street Journal report "A Blueprint for Change." Paying them a fair and equitable wage may be one solution to the problem. It's a good place to start.  Also, our daughters must learn how to ask.

As for my daughter, I had the wage talk with her. We role-played and practiced how to frame those uncomfortable questions. It may not be an easy discussion, but now she has some tools to work with. We should all make sure those tools are part of our daughters' toolkit.