If you’re an Alaska man reading this, imagine your paycheck being 25.8 percent smaller. If you’re a woman, you probably don’t have to imagine anything.
Barbara Belknap presented a piece of paper during a Monday interview that read: “Alaskan women earn 74.2 percent of what Alaskan men make — right below South Carolina and beside Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.”
Just about the only place you want to be beside Alabama and Arkansas is in an alphabetical list. That number puts Alaska at 43rd in the nation in state median annual earnings ratio by gender for full-time, year-round workers age 16 and older, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2010 American Community Survey data.
Belknap, who at 66 is retired, dedicates much of her available time to work addressing the pay gap for women, a phenomenon she has experienced herself.
After spending her whole life moving every few years as a military dependent and later as a Coast Guard spouse, she convinced her husband, Doug Belknap, to settle down in Juneau in 1989. They had spent three years in Juneau in the 1970s and she fell in love.
“I sat down with my husband and said ‘I won’t do this anymore.’ I wanted to get a job and see what I could do,” Belknap said. “I wanted to plant a tree and see it grow. If my neighbors had kids, I wanted to watch them grow up ...”
Her husband closed out his Coast Guard service in Juneau while she started to focus on her career. She went to work for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute as a receptionist and eventually worked her way up to being Executive Director — at a bargain salary, she said.
ASMI’s board went into executive session and when they returned to her they said, “We were paying your predecessor too much, this is what we’re giving to you,” Belknap explained. “There was a thought bubble over my head — ‘Really?’”
Talking with her neighbor, Amy Skilbread, whose children she has had the chance to watch grow up, Belknap said Skilbread asked, “What would have happened, Barb, if you said, ‘I’m going to think about it and get back to you tomorrow.’”
Belknap said it had never occurred to her to do that — and most women don’t. Or if they do attempt to negotiate pay, she said, they use qualifiers that make them seem timid and not in control.
In 2010, Belknap took over a role as an Alaska delegate to Vision 2020, a program of Drexel University, when Andrea Doll moved out of state and vacated the role. Belknap had already been working on equal pay for women and integrated that into her work with the Vision 2020 campaign, with its five national goals including pay equity by 2020.
One of Belknap’s projects included creating a video about negotiating pay, which was locally produced with local actors playing the roles.
“Be cool, negotiate” features Juneau’s Heather Paige as a woman accepting a job, who in one scenario accepts the salary offered, and in another scenario negotiates to get the salary she deserves based on her experience and abilities.
The video is based on an actual experience Belknap had with Paige, roleplaying a salary negotiation when Paige moved to Juneau and was seeking a job.
“You don’t sort of know it, you know it,” Belknap asserted. “You have experience.”
What Belknap now knows she should have done, and what she suggests to women today, is to counter an offer with: “That’s really generous, but given my experience, I think this figure is more realistic.”
During her last Vision 2020 conference in Philadelphia, Belknap met a young woman who works with taketheleadwomen.com, which “prepares, develops, inspires and propels women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025,” according to the website.
The young woman, Kaitlin Rattigan, told her about the Close the Gap App, an online interactive tool developed by Take the Lead and She Negotiates.
“Going through, it really does give you a good picture of your skills, what you’ve done and what you want to do but maybe haven’t thought about,” Belknap said of the tool.
One bit of advice from the tool that stuck with Belknap was, “Anchor first and anchor high” — to be the one to name a salary and to start high.
“The last part is a woman talking to her female boss about a raise,” Belknap said. “It’s really good because it shows how persistent the woman seeking the raise was. She had information in front of her, and how she talked to her boss — it was persistent, persistent, persistent.”
Belknap recommends the Close the Gap App, which she said takes about an hour to review. She suggests grabbing a cup of coffee or tea and sitting down to do it, because it offers an interesting narrative on the participant’s skills and aspirations.
The web-based application requires setting up an account with a username and password, and does have a cost of $10 attached — but Belknap isn’t only about pay negotiation, she worked out a deal with Take The Lead to offer a discount for Alaska women for the month of July. During July, Alaska women can enter the discount code ClosetheGapAK to receive 50 percent off the regular price.
“It will help you get clarity on what you want to do,” Belknap said. “And at the very end, how you would get what you’re worth in pay.”
Working with Take The Lead on the Close the Gap App is only one part of Belknap’s work, which won’t be done until the gap no longer exists. ‘
“You pick up these skills,” Belknap said of her career. “And you find other ways to use them, which is what I’ve done.”