Salary negotiations fill many people with fear, but studies show that women find them particularly challenging.
“You have to remember that women are newer to the workplace,” says Katie Donovan, the founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, a consultancy that helps women get the pay they deserve. “Sure, we’ve been secretaries, teachers, and nurses forever, but in terms of executive positions that require negotiating a salary, we’re on relatively new ground. In my own life, my father taught my brother to negotiate, but my mother taught me to how to wear lipstick. Many of us did not have role models giving us the inside scoop.”
Donovan compares women’s struggle with negotiating their salary to the struggles of first-generation college students navigating a college campus. Students whose parents didn’t go to college may not fully understand the resources that are at their disposal and, as a result, not take advantage of them. Similarly, women may not realize that many companies set aside money with the expectation that employees will ask for better compensation packages—although, of course, they will not volunteer this extra money. The data back this up: Salary.com found that 84% of employers expect prospective employees to negotiate salary during the interview stage. Yet only 30% of women bother to negotiate at all, while 46% of men negotiate.
“I kept hearing about how women hardly ever negotiate their salary, while men almost always do,” Donovan says. “I set up this company because I didn’t want to see my nieces, who at the time were between 14 and 22, having the same conversations in their 40s about how much money they had left on the table that so many of my friends were having.” (That figure, over the course of a lifetime of not negotiating, could add up to as much as $2 million in lost earnings.)
Donovan gives talks, runs workshops, and does online seminars to teach women the basics of negotiation. She even offers an app that takes into account the gender income gap so you can learn what men typically make for a particular job. She also coaches clients one-on-one as they walk through a salary negotiation with their prospective employer. In her years of experience, she’s gathered some pearls of wisdom for people who have just received a job offer and are ready to negotiate their compensation passage. (While Donovan has deployed this advice in helping women to narrow the gender pay gap, she points out that her advice applies to job candidates of both genders; women just tend to be less aware of these issues going into a negotiation.)
“You would never go into an interview without a resume,” Donovan says. “In the same way, you should never accept your offer without negotiating your salary.”
DON’T FALL FOR THE B.S.
One of the first lines that a prospective employer will give you is that the compensation package is non-negotiable–but that’s likely not true. Salaries are almost always negotiable.
Employers have many savvy ways to convince you not to negotiate. Sometimes, it will come across as flattery: “You’re such a great candidate that I didn’t want to bother with negotiating—so I went to bat and got you the highest salary you could possibly start with.” At other times, it might be something less positive: “We offer entry-level employees a fixed package,” “You’re not as good as you think you are,” or “Your information is wrong.”
“This is just their starting line,” Donovan says. “Most of us accept what they are saying at face value, but really, it’s just part of the game. The biggest mistake you can make is falling for it.”
Donovan points out that many women are very good at following rules, which is why girls consistently outperform boys in school. But sometimes succeeding in the workplace means breaking perceived rules; men often don’t take a “no” from an employer to be the last word. Women going into negotiations should always assume that there is always some wiggle room in the compensation package. “If increasing salary doesn’t seem to be working, try negotiating on things like vacation time, bonuses, or benefits,” Donovan says.