Women and Salary Negotiations

by Julie Graber | on 17 May 2020

Negotiation: the fact that men do and women don’t is one of the reasons used to explain the gender pay gap and was the subject of the best selling book by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Women Don’t Ask, in 2007. The book and its related research spawned thousands of workshops and classes aimed at teaching women to negotiate their salaries and close the gap. 

In spite of these efforts, the gender pay gap persist; the latest figures available from AAUW are:

  • Overall: $0.82 (median earnings for women compared to $1.00 in median earnings for men
  • African American women: $0.61
  • Hispanic/Latina women” $0.53

Let me state up front that the long-term solution to the problem is not the "fix the women" strategy; the long-term solution is set salaries fairly and ensure that there are specific, performance-relevant reasons for any variations. It makes no business sense to me to pay someone more just because they ask (and someone less because they don't). 

That said, though, women (and some men) still need to find ways to productively engage in discussions regarding their compensation in order to be paid fairly. And it turns out, there are ways to approach the discussion that play to what for many women are their strengths. Here are a couple of things I've gleaned from the research to keep in mind.

Be Prepared

One of the things that makes it difficult for anyone to negotiate a salary package is not having a good handle on what they’re worth in the marketplace. All of the secrecy that exist around compensation makes it hard to know what you should expect in terms of salary (and benefits!). Some experts suggest benchmarking your value on a quarterly basis - using online resources like Salary.com, Glassdoor, and PayScale.com. If there’s an active trade association in your profession, they may also be a resource for information on pay. It also helps to pay attention to what your company may publicize in job postings, or what’s posted by similar firms in your region. Sometimes a colleague in another firm who has a job similar to yours (or a mentor) may also be willing to give you a range (if they won’t discuss specifics). Finally, recruiters and search firms may be able to help you pinpoint a target number. 

With your research in hand, know what constitutes your best case offer (should be in the top 30% of the range), your realistic expectation, and your bottom line. It’s too easy to be swayed by an initial offer if you don’t have a target in mind (hey, this is business - know the key indicators of what you think is a fair deal). 

In addition, keep a running record of your accomplishments so that you can articulate them (put them on paper if you’re uncomfortable expressing them verbally - it's easier to share and highlight verbally). Be able to talk about what you can and do contribute, your current responsibilities, and any additional assignments you’ve handled. Don’t assume that the person has that information even if it’s within your current firm.

Reframe the Conversation

One of the things that makes negotiation uncomfortable for women is approaching it as a competition - something where someone wins and someone loses. We're not socialized to look out for ourselves. 

But salary discussions can also be approached as relationship-building - something, again, that for many women is a strength. The goal with this approach is win-win; you want the job and they want you - what’s the best deal you can reach that will benefit both parties? Think of it as a collaboration, not a competition - it's integrative, focusing on mutual interests and constructive solutions. 

In addition, women (and men) should think long-term about their compensation package, because where you start is of critical importance when raises (and bonuses and retirement) are typically percentages that build on that original base salary. Also, remember it's not just about you - it's a number that will impact you in the future and what you can do for your family (however it is defined). Women are socialized to look out for others (vs. themselves) so use that to your advantage in approaching compensation conversations. 

Finally, it’s about what you’re worth in that job and in that market, not whether or not it will be enough to cover your expenses. 

Think Total Compensation Package

Before the negotiations wrap up, it’s important to think about the total compensation package. It’s not a reason to accept less money, but in addition to the obvious benefits (health insurance, paid leave/paid time off, disability coverage), think about training and professional development opportunities that will help you build your career and contribute to the company’s goals, including tuition reimbursement for college or important certifications. The compensation package can also include memberships or dues for professional organizations, a severance agreement (what if it doesn't work out), 401K contributions and stock options, moving expenses, student loan assistance (becoming more common), job titles, mentoring opportunities, and more. For all of these - what's important to you? Tuition reimbursement has no value if you have no interest in furthering your education or seeking additional training. 

Couple of other notes:

Don’t ask if the offer is negotiable - make the assumption that it is unless the company has seen the light and has a publicized policy of not negotiating salaries (you'll know).

Practice with a friend or colleague - prepare the language you want to use. Don't assume you'll be able to think of it off the top of your head.

Be ready to deflect questions about your current/previous salary. Some localities have banned questions about salary history, recognizing the disadvantage it generally creates for women. Instead of answering the question, ask what the salary range is for the role and indicate that you’re willing to consider any reasonable/competitive offer. Additional phrases that may help:

  • My current salary may not be a valid indication of the skills/experience I can bring to this position...
  • You would have a better handle on what this role is worth to your organization...
  • According to my research…
  • I’m really focused on learning more about the role…
  • My current/previous salary isn't relevant to this discussion.

Name Your Price

Some say don't be the first to put a number on the table. Others suggest that that if you’re confident regarding your research then propose a number and package of benefits that are more than what you hope but competitive for the marketplace. 

 When there’s an offer on the table and you were expecting more, here are some suggested responses:

  • According to my research though, I was expecting….. Would you be able to match that figure?
  • Can we explore a higher salary? – based on my research…
  • Sounds like a good starting place – I’d like to talk thru the details
  • I'd like to hear about the total package 
  • Since I bring not only XYZ to the role, but ABC I am seeking a salary of…

When it's all done - get it in writing. 

Remember, it's the start of a working relationship - your goal is to create a solid base to build upon in years to come. 

Resources I used for this post:

  • Linda Babcock & Sara Laschever - Women Don't Ask
  • Professor Leigh Thompson – Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University – she's amazing and has great video resources online - full workshops that you can view for free.
  • Hannah Riley Bowles – runs the women and public policy program at Harvard
  • the advice and counsel of colleagues and friends
  • and the school of hard knocks.

Tags:  By The NumbersPay Gap