By Le Anne Harper
Study after study confirms that the gender wage gap in this country persists. According to PayScale, women earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2019 (“The State of the Gender Pay Gap,” 2020). Decades earlier, The New York Times reported that in 1980 women earned 70 cents for every dollar earned by men (“Women’s Roles vs. Social Norms,” 1986).
In nearly 40 years, the wage gap has only decreased by 9 cents! Sadly, it could take another 40 years to reach pay parity. The good news is you can change your personal earning power now.
Let’s pull back the curtain to share these ten insights that can help you negotiate like a pro:
- Your gender matters. Babcock and Laschever’s famous 2003 study of graduating master’s degree students found 57 percent of the men negotiated their first job offers while only 7 percent of the women did. Despite many collective gains, women often find salary negotiations challenging on a personal level. Generations of limiting gender norms have shaped you and can influence how you handle job offers. Will you be “agreeable” even if it means settling for less than you’re worth? Be aware of this insidious legacy so you won’t be limited by it.
- Don’t accept…yet. What’s the first thing you feel when you receive a job offer? Typically, it’s gratitude. By the time you’ve interviewed and showcased your myriad talents for a potential employer, you’ve often adopted a “please, pick me” mindset. If you finally get to an offer, it’s easy to ride that momentum (and relief!) to a fast “Yes, I accept,” especially if you’ve interviewed for several jobs without receiving an offer. Whatever you do, don’t accept…yet. With an offer in hand, the power shifts in your favor slightly, so press pause and assess the offer’s merits.
- Don’t overshare. When it comes to job offers, companies historically used a candidate’s most recent salary as a baseline and added approximately 10–30 percent to make an offer. This approach keeps people who have been underpaid in the past underpaid even as they move into new, more senior roles. California is one of 17 states (and counting) that has enacted protections to address this problem by prohibiting companies from requesting salary history; instead, companies place a value on a position’s responsibilities and set the budget accordingly. Instead, ask what the budget for the role is and decide if it aligns with your expectations.
- Negotiating can bridge the gender gap. Another significant finding of Babcock and Laschever’s study was that the women who did negotiate were able to increase their salaries by approximately the same percentage as the men who negotiated. This means that failing to ask for a higher initial offer is a key factor in their lower starting salaries. But don’t let the historical collective figures discourage you. You have the power to bridge the gap. As with the adage Closed mouths don’t get fed, you can learn exactly what they’re willing to pay if you open your mouth and ASK.
- The first offer is rarely the best offer. If you’ve ever been a hiring manager, you know there’s almost always wiggle room on an offer. In fact, we’re so used to being countered that we often factor that into our offers. We might propose $190,000 to our final candidate, so that when s/he suggests that $210,000 will seal the deal, we can all feel good about compromising in the middle at $200,000. Companies typically set a target range for a role, but exceptions are pretty common. The policies vary, but there’s usually some flexibility. Someone in the hiring hierarchy has the power to shuffle their budget to give you a little more.
- Know your value. There’s power in understanding your value to the companies where you interview as well as to the specific business unit/hiring manager you’ll support, since that’s usually who has to go to bat for your bigger offer. Get clear about how the company makes or saves money and be able to directly articulate how your skills fit into those equations. Bonus points if you can share specific examples of successful past efforts that demonstrate your expertise and quantify the business impact (e.g. reduced supplier spend by $1.5M, increased employee retention by 40 percent). Use a salary tool like PayScale, Glassdoor, Salary.com, or Indeed to calculate your desired salary. Adjust up or down for significant factors like supply/demand of your skillset, cost of living, a terrible commute (or lack of one), company benefits, culture/values, lifestyle (frequent travel, long hours).
- Toss any baggage. Examine and release any emotional baggage you may be carrying from prior interviewing or work experiences, such as insecurities about being laid off or resentment about feeling underappreciated. This isn’t about invalidating your feelings; it’s about sidelining them so you can be effective in salary negotiations. You can’t afford to convey any hint of resentment, entitlement, or desperation. Work through any lingering feelings, get grounded, and approach your negotiations with a clear, confident state of mind and well-researched data.
- Be the key. Most for-profit companies are constantly assessing how to grow, which basically means saving money or unlocking new revenue. If your expertise addresses one of these objectives, then you become the key that unlocks the solution. Do some research beforehand so you can precisely target companies that most need and value your key. For example, you wouldn’t try to sell steak knives to vegans. One way to figure out who needs you is think about what keeps a company’s leaders up at night. When you can solve that company’s problems, focus your sights on them. That’s how you can command top dollar during negotiations.
- Get creative. There are many elements to a job offer, and salary is only one facet. If a balanced lifestyle is what you seek, think about asking for a remote working schedule or unlimited PTO. Companies have a range of creative perks, some of which might add more value than cash. These fringe benefits are not to be overlooked; it can be fun, like ordering from a restaurant’s secret menu. You can get creative in your asks but consider the cost and possible upside. For example, asking to leave early on Wednesdays for three months so you can complete your MBA will benefit the company and make you look smart.
- Practice poise. Especially if you’re not an experienced negotiator, this process can be awkward or downright panic-inducing. It’s nerve-wracking for most people, so now is not the time to wing it. Practice out loud with someone you trust and keep practicing until you can convey your salary request with clarity, supporting data, and confidence without ego, apology, or entitlement.
Now you’ve got some tools for getting into the right mindset and making a sound business case for your ask. Be bold and remember that negotiating works most of the time (89% according to Inc. Magazine)!
Le Anne Harper leads the Diversity & Inclusion practice at Katalyst Group, a talent advisory firm that finds unicorns and purple squirrels for industry-leading companies like The Gap, Samsung, Nike, and Sony. She is a talent consultant and diversity evangelist who has spent 20 years helping companies transform and thrive by recruiting and cultivating the world’s best talent.