04/25/2012 03:28 EDT | Updated 06/25/2012 05:12 EDT

The Kind of Virginity Your Daughter Should Be Losing


Fifty-five per cent of women in their 20s and early 30s have never in their lives asked for a pay raise.

This is according to a recent study from Accenture examining Gen Y men and women in the workplace.

"Pay Raise Virginity" is probably not the exact technical term Accenture would use to describe the millions of American women who've yet to take this important step. However, there is no better phrase that captures the fear, uncertainty, and life-changing significance of asking for your first pay raise.

Consider Jack and Jane, hypothetical recent college grads who both just finished their rookie year on the job. Both performed equally well and both were offered a raise of five per cent over their current $25,000 annual salaries.

Jane accepted her raise immediately, not knowing that she could do better. Jack, on the other hand, asked for a tiny extra one per cent bump in his salary, bringing his raise to six per cent.

Jack made himself look pretty greedy just to earn an extra $250 next year...bad move, right?

Wrong. That's because Jack just lost his "Pay Raise Virginity," and over the course of his career, that $250 is going to turn into more money than he ever imagined.

If Jane still settles for five per cent annual pay raises and Jack continues to receive six per cent each year, Jack will make over an extra million dollars in lifetime income that Jane will never see. That's more than a million dollars that Jack will get by the time he retires, just because of that tiny one per cent salary bump.

According to the Accenture data, Gen Y men are almost 30 per cent more likely than Gen Y women to have asked for a raise at least once in their lives. And asking once is often all it takes.

After Jack gets his first six per cent raise, his second six per cent raise will come a lot easier. That's because higher expectations have now been firmly set. Jane, on the other hand, will get her usual five per cent each year because she already demonstrated that she'll settle for less without negotiating.

To be clear, "Pay Raise Virginity" is far from the only cause of the pay gap between men and women. However, it might be the most important because it's the one that Jane herself has the most control over. Asking for a raise early in her career means earning much more money over time.

But first, Jane has make sure she actually wants more money -- and that's not as obvious as it sounds.

According to the Accenture data, despite the difference in their salaries, Gen Y women and Gen Y men report being equally satisfied with their current pay. This may come as a shock to some, but the data suggests that Gen Y women simply don't consider themselves underpaid any more than Gen Y men do.

Partially, that's because Jack's raises in the early years don't add up to much. It's not until the Gen Y group reaches their middle years that the gap between Jack and Jane widens so significantly that it becomes hard to miss. And by the time Jane notices, it can be too late to catch up.

Regardless of whether you're a man or a woman, here's one final reason for "Pay Raise Virgins" to finally take the plunge: According to the Accenture data, almost nine out of 10 people who asked for a raise last year got at least something for their efforts.

Sometimes it was more money than they asked for, sometimes it was less, and sometimes it was just a tiny one per cent bump in their pay. But, as you should understand by now, every one per cent counts.