Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. This year, that date fell on April 10th, meaning women must work more than 3 extra months to earn an equal salary to our male counterparts.

The gender pay gap – which states that women, on average, make 77 cents for every dollar that men earn – is often mocked as a myth, a mistake or a lie. And not just by men; my female boss didn’t believe me when I shared this statistic with her.

In a recent blog post, I shared an even more deflating statistic: at this rate, gender parity is over 200 years away! WTF? Why?

Vanity Fair reported that many women don’t feel empowered to elevate themselves or their concerns at work because they recognize the systemic barriers created by sexism. Many women also feel that the lack of women in leadership roles contributes to this problem, because the “good ol’ boys club” still rampantly exists in the modern workplace.

I’ve witnessed and experienced this club in every organization I’ve worked in, from the time a director of security tried to intimidate me for a mistake he made (letting a behavioral health patient escape from the unit), to the time I was called “entitled” when I asked for a raise, to the time when the lone woman on the executive leadership team was also the only one without the title “Senior” before her VP.

But I didn’t allow those events to stop or discourage me. I took action. I was determined to boldly go where no woman has gone before. I may not be able to change the world alone, but I’ll be damned if I won’t help other women fight for equality.

Here are 7 ways you can support women and close the gender pay gap:

1. Mentor a woman

If you’re in a leadership role in your organization, mentor a woman. Mentorship is critical to young leaders’ success because it provides the opportunity for women to expand their perspective, build social capital, be politically and organizationally savvy, and build the courage and confidence necessary to take on new opportunities or speak up in meetings.

Mentorship shouldn’t be limited to monthly meetings where you share stories of your experience and how you got to where you are now. The power in mentorship lies in sponsorship, advocacy and alignment. This means nominating your mentee for a new committee at work, publicly praising or acknowledging her accomplishments, and understanding her strengths to best position her for roles that will lead to advancement.

The best example I can give you of a mentor was a leader who took a chance on me. Fresh out of grad school with unbreakable spirit and drive to “fix” healthcare, I learned more about leadership from him than I could ever learn in a classroom. He understood me; what motivated me, what I valued, my hopes and dreams, my doubts and fears. And he used his knowledge of me to position me where he knew I’d be successful: giving presentations to the leadership team, working in specific departments, networking with colleagues in sister hospitals. One of those colleagues even hired me in a promotional role. I credit much of my early success to his mentorship, advocacy and sponsorship, which helped me navigate a male-dominated, politically-charged industry.

2. Start a Lean In Circle

I wrote a blog about this topic, but it warrants repeating. Lean In Circles are powerful networks of like-minded women (and men!) who come together around a common goal: greater gender equality. The goal of the program is for all women to have the confidence and know-how to achieve their goals. This starts with an active and supportive community that encourages open sharing of stories and experiences intended to inspire, teach and connect us as women. Every meeting ends with each member making a commitment to herself to take action.

There is a lot of research and science behind the power of peer support. But, much of the research is in medical terms. For example, in a study of peer support for patients with diabetes, researchers found that social support increased self-efficacy, self-esteem and medication adherence, leading to a better quality of life.

Think about this in terms of peer support for women. If these metrics were translated to Lean In Circles, we could expect to see more women who believe in themselves, higher self-esteem, more consistency in follow-through, better quality of life… The power of this type of support is astounding: more than 80% members say they’re more likely to take on a new challenge or opportunity because of their Circle (read more about my Circle experience here).

3. End mansplaining

This goes for anyone who doesn’t believe that gender parity exists. Believing it’s a myth doesn’t make it one. Assuming your organization doesn’t discriminate only compounds the issue. Ignoring the matter altogether? Well there’s a special place in hell for you.

How do we end the ignorance? With facts.

First, women need to speak up about this issue. It can be scary at first to speak up about gender parity when many people don’t believe it’s “a thing.” Find your tribe – if you have your Lean In Circle, start there. Encourage open discussion among your coworkers; share stories about times when you faced discrimination or harassment at work. Make the conversation comfortable.

Next, do your research so you’re prepared for the dissent. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap Report, McKinsey & Co., and the Economic Policy Institute are good resources. Next time someone tells you that they don’t believe in the gender pay gap, you’ll be armed with truth and knowledge, and no man can ‘splain that away from you.

4. Hire women

This one seems like a no-brainer, but I assure you, many hiring managers don’t make it a priority to hire women, especially minority women. And when they do, they’re paid ridiculously low salaries.

We all know more diversity increases the number of different perspectives and options, which leads to more creative products and teams, which leads to better businesses.

Need I say more? If you’re in a position to make hiring decisions, hire more women.

5. Contribute to an organization that helps women

Your money has more power than you know. Where you choose to spend your money speaks volumes about who you are as an individual and what you care about in the world.

Think about how you’d like to make a difference for women: is it supporting women-owned businesses and start-ups, ending domestic violence, contributing to the education of marginalized women, or empowering young girls?

I wrote a recent blog post about five incredible organizations who make the world a better place for women. What these organizations have in common is that they focus on advocacy and creating opportunities for women and girls.

While these are large, international organizations, there are also many local opportunities that serve women, like domestic violence shelters, organizations that encourage girls to go into STEM fields, and yes, even network marketing businesses.

6. Lift up, don’t pull down

Speaking of network marketing, stop judging women who make an income this way. Judging how women make money is just as destructive as judging them for their weight, hair color or shoes. If she’s doing something that makes her happy, who are we to knock that?

This type of judgment is detrimental to women because it contributes to the myth that women choose careers that are “less than” or not as lucrative as the jobs men take. Many women who choose to start a network marketing business for the flexibility it provides; they’re stay-at-home-moms who want to do something for themselves, or they’re women who want to earn a little extra income each month on top of their regular salary.

And while you’re at it, stop comparing yourself to other women who are more successful than you. That negative energy is only hurting you and preventing you from achieving your goals. If comparison is the thief of joy, then jealousy is its partner in crime. Comparison and jealousy foster competitive environments; instead of encouraging and supporting our female coworkers, we compete with them for promotions, raises and other opportunities.

Celebrating women’s success lifts us all up. Cheering her on when she lands her dream job or wins a company award or writes a book encourages all women by letting us know we can achieve the same things.

7. Be a good citizen

If all else fails, write to your representatives. Write to them about your experience as a woman in the workforce. Ask them to co-sponsor the current bills in Congress that would help to achieve fair pay. Urge them to be a catalyst for change. Your voice is important; it deserves to be heard.

The Takeaway

We all have a responsibility to promote ourselves and support our female coworkers if we want to close the gender pay gap in our lifetime. It’s not only possible; it’s necessary.

It is necessary for women to advocate for themselves. It is necessary for women to have equal representation on leadership teams and boards of directors and government. It is necessary to be paid equally for equal work.

It is necessary to have support and mentorship and pay it forward when someone helps you. It is necessary to speak up, stand up and never give up.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments. And if you found this article helpful, please share it with women who need to hear this message – they’ll thank you for it!

Ready to change the world but don’t know where to start? Download the free BE Alive Passion + Purpose Workbook or join me for a free 2-hour Discovery Session to turn your passion into action.

Originally published at www.brightspacecoaching.com