The uncomfortable truth about pay gap

Pay gap due to career break will exist and it’s the uncomfortable truth we all should honestly talk about. Due to the push towards equity, the discussion has been one-sided so as not be seen as biased. This has hurt working women more than anyone else because they are taught to expect, demand and get offended by the pay gap without giving an overall context.

I read about a survey where working women who wanted to return to work quoted that they were being paid less than they should be because of the career break and hence they got dissuaded to return to the workforce.

Let’s say a professional man with X years of experience quits the workforce to travel the world or for soul searching, he joins the workforce after say 2 years. What is the salary expectation he can have? When he rejoins, at best he can expect a salary as of market standards for X years of experience. If the employer wishes they can negotiate lesser than that quoting his lack of experience for 2 years due to break. If the man has a niche skill and the employer is in a desperate situation the man with a career break can quote more than the market rate for X number of years.

This will apply to working women on career break too, isn’t it? Taking a break for kids or ageing parents is a noble reason but a personal reason nevertheless. Women will continue to take such breaks and it should be so. Organisations should continue to have positive policies not to outright reject working women with career breaks. At the same time, organisations can’t be faulted blindly with pay gap issues either. Pays are a product of market conditions and one’s negotiating leverage, irrespective of gender.

If you are a working woman with career break, when you think of the pay gap – while returning to workforce, analyse it in these terms-

1 – Are you being offered a salary at the market rate for your skill for your years of experience?

2 – The years of gap can’t be included in years of experience. Do not think of it as a penalty. It is not. It’s how the market works for any product or service.

3 – If your skill is outdated then you lose negotiating leverage in the salary market. So either upskill or be ready to get a slash in your salary.

4 – Remember organisations have a cost to the company to train an employee with break. The same way a fresher is trained. Remember freshers have a low salary at the start for the same reason.

See the bigger picture. Do not get dissuaded by comparing your salary offer after a break with someone who has been continuously working. The trap of asking the wrong question is, it persuades you to stay out of the workforce. When you decide to stay out, it is only your loss. Ask the right question and you will find out things aren’t bad and once you are back in the workforce, you can work towards decreasing the gap.

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