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Salary Negotiation for Women: Tips and Considerations to Keep in Mind

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Whether you’re early in your career or working toward your next senior-level role, you just can’t put a price tag on hard work. If you did, the company would probably go broke -- you’re just that good. But unfortunately, life doesn’t pay you by your level of effort (though that would be nice). You can, however, demand your weight in gold; with the right amount of time, preparation, research and strong communication skills, you could add a couple of extra zeros to that direct deposit amount.

I just attended an incredibly informative and eye opening virtual discussion hosted by Hire Powers Networks (HPN), a ‘people first, volunteer-based employment advocacy and assistance organization. Now, I may be a bit biased, but HPN is particularly special to me: it was with the help of Gretchen Schwartz, Founder and Chief Talent Advocate for Hire Powers, that I found -- my current job, rather -- found me. After experiencing my first lay off, Gretchen equipped me with the knowledge I needed as an entry-level professional to acknowledge my worth and advocate for my skills and abilities on my resume and in my discussions with new contacts in my professional network. By reminding me that I had something special to offer (because it’s admittedly easy to forget that after a layoff), she made initiating and approaching conversations with new connections easier. An amazing internship came out of one of these conversations. All I had to do was be me and be confident in that, and remain authentic to myself and intentional in what I wanted.

I am just one of the many individuals Gretchen and her groundbreaking team have been able to help: “Ladies, don’t leave money on the table!”, Hire Powers most recent virtual discussion, hosted by an all-woman panel of speakers, and one male ally, got down and dirty with one of the most dreaded career conversations: salary negotiation.

What is the data saying about how women feel about salary negotiations?

According to the Randstad COVID-19 2020 U.S. Compensation Insights survey,women and men have different salary negotiation tactics. While the difference in the numbers isn’t too staggering, statistically men are more likely to engage in negotiation discussions and pushing for higher salaries.

“I would rather negotiate for a higher amount and settle for a number in the middle than ask for nothing” - 75% of women can attest to this compared to 81% of men.
“I’ve never negotiated my pay.” - 57% of women say this compared to 51% of men.

The Randstad survey goes on to say that women tend to either move laterally or will leave their current job to find the pay they want, as opposed to just asking.

"You have to ask for what you want.” said Sandra Dryer, a “Ladies, don’t leave money on the table!” panelist. Seems easy enough, right? However, you'd be surprised how much money women (all too often) give away for certain factors discussed later in the article. But believe it or not, it really is that simple -- just ask. You won't ever know unless you ask. Case in point:

In her book Women Don’t Ask, Margaret A. Neale, the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management Emerita at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, explores the reasons why women rarely ask for what they need in the workplace. A common scenario that she often presents to her students is: if you propose a salary of $100,000 and another person proposes $107,000 and gets that $107,000 they asked for ---- $7,000 more than you ----- how would you feel about that? It is only $7,000, which some would say may not be worth risking your reputation over. But from a cost analysis standpoint, you’d be short-changing yourself in the long run. That extra $7,000 your peer asked for will compound. You both may be in the same role, doing equally well, but “35 years later, you will have to work eight more years to be as wealthy as your counterpart at retirement. Now, the question is: $7,000 may not be worth the risk, but how about eight years of your life?” This is some serious food for thought. But then comes another factor many refer to as, the gender wage gap.

In a perfect world, negotiation pays. A key finding of a 2007 Payscale survey says that 70% of employees who have asked for a raise received one. Further segmenting this data of 160,000 participants, the survey found that “39% of those who asked for a raise received the amount they asked for. Another 31% got a raise that is less than the amount they requested. The remaining 30 percent did not get a raise”. But as with anything, there’s a catch to these numbers: relative to white men, people of color are less likely to receive a raise after requesting, with 25% of men of color and 19% of women of color less likely to negotiate.

Why is this? It’s definitely not for a lack of trying.

To blame what this data is suggesting on lack of confidence or preparation would be unfair and could be considered gaslighting, quite honestly. There are a number of factors that go into one’s reluctance in advocating for fair pay. A Harvard Business Review article details a few reasons why women are reticent when it comes to salary negotiation. Wanting to avoid conflict, or the “social cost” is an issue many of their women respondents say deter them from approaching these kinds of situations. This fact alone sets the stage for an even larger conversation around creating more open and inclusive work environments for underrepresented minority groups ---- which is another article for another day.

We can’t change a broken system overnight, but we can equip you with some advice to arm yourself in your next salary negotiation.

4 Tips to Keep in Mind When Negotiating Salary

1) Follow the relational account or “I-We” strategy by providing a legitimate reason for your ask with a focus on maintaining organizational relationships. Simply put, by (you) negotiating your pay, (you) are in turn demonstrating how strong an asset (you) can be/already are for the organization. This method can also relieve some of the potential stress associated with the perceived social cost of self-advocating. An example of this strategy for, say, a more junior-level employee is illustrated by the Harvard Business Review in this brief script:

I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I’m hopeful that you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I can bring to the job.”

2) Don’t confuse salary negotiation with perk negotiation. Negotiate your salary first, then ask about benefits and amenities in the second phase of the discussion.

3) You deserve to be paid what the position is worth, not what you’re currently being paid.

4) Do your research by asking peers currently in the role or who have gone through the same process about their experience and come prepared.

Everyone’s situation is different, but remember that you are not alone and it’s okay to feel uneasy about navigating the wonderful world of salaries. So when the moment is right, remember that you're in this position for a reason -- you're worth it. Even the former United States First Lady, Michelle Obama, has had to have this kind of conversation:

"...My husband is running for the U.S. Senate. I will not work part-time. I need flexibility. I need a good salary. I need to be able to afford babysitting. If you can do all that, and you’re willing to be flexible with me because I will get the job done, I can work hard on a flexible schedule."

-Michelle Obama, Parade, June 2014

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Reciprocity is key.

"A lot of us were raised with the belief that it’s not polite to talk about money. If we want to close the pay gap, it’s time to stop being polite and start talking about equal pay."

Negotiation takes courage, but remember you're your own boss. Humility is a wonderful trait to have. But all too often women are quick to advocate for others before themselves. It's more than okay to be selfish for a moment and let all your qualifications do most of the talking. Reward yourself by acknowledging what your time is worth. Think about it this way ---- if your time wasn't worth much, would you even be reading this article right now trying to figure out how to start the negotiation process? Don't leave any money on the table, go negotiate!

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