MTSU and the American Association of University Women host ‘Start Smart’ presentation


Photo and Story by Connor Burnard / Contributing Writer

As part of women’s history month, MTSU hosted a presentation Thursday afternoon sponsored by the American Association of University Women called “Start Smart,” given by lecturer L’Oreal Stephens in the Business and Aerospace Building.

Stephens, who teaches communication studies and organizational communication at MTSU and is a member of the Murfreesboro AAUW, said that she wants to “help us all address” the issue of the gender pay gap and stereotypes against women in the workplace.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I didn’t have the realization that women were making less than the men,” said Stephens at the beginning of the presentation. “It’s a very complicated kind of issue, and we can’t just blame it on one thing.”

Stephens started with the four rules of negotiating a fair salary: Know your value, benchmark your salary and benefits, know your strategy and practice. She said that despite recent legislation that has made it easier to present pay discrimination lawsuits, a “culture that says it’s not happening” and “invisible hand” discrimination, in which some employers discriminate regardless of legislation or company policy, are reasons why the pay gap still exists.

Much of the presentation addressed anxiety or fear of failure when negotiating pay. She said that women should prepare before an interview by knowing their target salary or their “bolstering range,” which is generally a range that begins at the target salary and goes up to 20 percent above that. She stated that they should also know their “resistance point,” or the lowest salary they would accept and what the employer is not legally allowed to ask them about, such as having kids, religious affiliation, age or disability. Ultimately, Stephens said the most important thing is having the confidence and knowledge to negotiate a reasonable salary.

“Employers don’t want you to talk about it,” said Stephens. “Women are less likely to negotiate pay and that is why we have this facilitation today.”

Stephens also pointed out the effect that race has on pay discrimination. She said that according to the AAUW, Caucasian women would make $430,480 less than Caucasian men over the course of a 40-year career, while African-American women and Hispanic women would make $877,480 and $1,007,080 less than their Caucasian male counterparts, respectively.

“Sometimes these broken-down racial implications get lost in the shuffle,” Stephens said.

Stephens provided advice for women regarding double standards and damaging stereotypes in the workplace. She said that a phenomenon called the “double bind,” in which women feel they can either be likable or respected as competent but not both, needs to be addressed because of its unfairness and inaccuracy.

She tackled stereotypes like women’s capabilities or attitudes being doubted or seen as lesser than the capabilities and attitudes of their male counterparts.

At the end of the presentation, Stephens had attendees practice negotiating fair pay with each other, with one person acting as an employer and another acting as an employee. This negotiation knowledge and practice could help women to ensure they make a fair salary compared to their male counterparts and confront the gender pay gap, Stephens hopes.

“I hate that we even have to talk about this. I hope that one day this class won’t even be needed,” Stephens said. “You have to admit that there’s a problem, listen to the people that are going through it, and then have the willingness to fight and do something about it, and it takes time.”

Attendees received packets of information on “Start Smart” and the AAUW, and were told to practice negotiation with their friends and family to spread the knowledge.

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To contact News Editor Brinley Hineman, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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