Closing The Gap

Only 20% of millennial women know how much their colleagues make—here's why that's a problem

Three businesswomen sitting on large Pillows in an office and talking during an informal meeting
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Discussing salary information with peers can be a sensitive topic for anyone. And, according to data provided to CNBC Make It by investing and banking app Stash, it's a conversation that just 20% of millennial women have had with their colleagues.

In the survey, which includes more than 1,200 participants, Stash found that not only do the majority of millennial women not know how much their colleagues make, but they avoid the conversation with those close to them as well — just 35% know how much their friends make.

Millennial men are also reluctant to having this conversation, according to Stash, but they are more likely than women to have it with their friends. According to the data, 50% of millennial men say they know how much their friends make.

Jeremy Quittner, head of Stash's educational platform Learn, says that though income conversations are uncomfortable for a lot of people, there's a reason women in particular may be afraid to have these conversations: They could find out they're severely underpaid.

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"There are [reported] differences between what men and women are paid for doing exactly the same work," he tells CNBC Make It, while referring to the fact that, on average, women earn 80 cents to every dollar earned by men, while women of color earn far less. As a result, Quittner says, "there might just be a kind of reticence for women to talk and speak up about salary and wages."

But rather than allowing the fear of being underpaid to drive you into silence, Quittner says more professionals should share their income with peers so that the information can be used as framework for discovering a person's market value. career expert Vicki Salemi agrees. She says that one of the best ways to initiate a conversation about pay so that it's comfortable for both you and your peer is to first talk about the benefits of having the discussion. Then, she says, you should say something like, "In the spirit of being transparent, I'm asking if you feel comfortable revealing what you earn — if not the exact number, then maybe a range. Also, know that I can reveal what I earn, and this can be power for us to do something about our salary."

After earning your peer's trust, Salemi says you can then use that information to go to your boss and advocate for a raise if you feel you're underpaid. During this meeting with your boss, she says you should never disclose who you talked to about pay. Instead, she says, you should focus solely on your accomplishments and make the case for why you're deserving of more money.

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"Bring in at least three highlights of accomplishments that you've achieved in the past year," she says. "Maybe it's saving money or maybe it's an email from a client saying you did a great job. But go in and say, 'You know, I feel like I'm an asset to this team, and I've been doing internal research, and the average pay is X amount. I'm below that by X thousand."

After the meeting, Salemi says you should then document everything that was discussed in a follow-up email so that both you and your boss are able to keep track of the conversation. If all goes well, then your boss may say they need to talk to the finance department before granting your request. If that's the case, then Salemi suggests asking about an appropriate time frame for when you can follow-up on the discussion.

In the event that your boss is dismissive of your desire to talk about pay, then Salemi says you should view it as a clear sign that now may be a good time to look for a new opportunity.

"While these conversations may feel uncomfortable at first," Salemi says, "they should get more comfortable when you realize this is not only your current self but also your future self that you're putting in alignment for a much better job that pays you what you're worth."

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