Salary Negotiation for Women: Close the Pay Gap! Part 1

Salary Negotiation for Women: Close the Pay Gap! Part 1Salary Negotiation for Women: Close the Pay Gap! Part 1

The following story, one that a friend related to me just a couple of days ago, has become all-too-familiar: Judy (fictitious name), a part-time assistant in my friend’s office, was offered a full-time position at a salary lower than she deserved, and lower than she had made in previous positions. She felt underappreciated, but wanted the full-time position. So she went home to discuss it with her husband, and came back the next day with her decision. She would accept the job. She did not negotiate, but instead accepted the low-ball offer. What she didn’t know is that the hiring manager had been prepared to give her more—if she had chosen to ask for it.

Now, not only is Judy’s salary below her worth, but all her raises in the future will be based on a low starting point. To me, this situation is very sad.

You’re probably aware of the pay gap between men and women in the workplace. Perhaps you’ve heard the statistic that women earn 80 cents to every dollar that men earn. The gap persists after controlling for college major, occupation, employment sector, and even requests for time off. Strikingly, this number varies depending on ethnicity: Asian women earn 94 cents to the men’s dollar; white women 82 cents, African American women 68 cents, and Hispanic women 61 cents. So while it does seem that the gap is due to underlying sexism and racism, some of it could also be due to women’s failure to ask for what they deserve.

I wonder, are Asian women just better negotiators than their white, African American, and Hispanic peers?

While the answer to that question is still a mystery to me, I learned a ton about the topic of salary negotiation in a webinar presented by Professor Deborah Ellis for YaleWomen, “Salary Negotiation.” Professor Ellis addressed the pay gap for women and how women can start making inroads into that gap through salary negotiation.

In salary negotiation, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Many women are scared that by negotiating they will lose the position completely—but that rarely happens. You might lose the negotiation, but you won’t get a worse package than what you were already offered. And more often, you’ll get what you want. One mid-level lawyer reported:

“I negotiated, and there really wasn’t any back and forth. He just said yes to the request I made.”

Hmmm… Maybe men who are hiring are more scared of you than you are of them. They don’t want to lose you and they have already chosen you as the best person for the job. So you are in a position of power. Use it!

Salary negotiation works for women!

I wish more women understood their position of power and would reap the benefits of salary negotiation. But a study at Carnegie Mellon revealed that only 7% of women grad students negotiated vs. 57% of men. The average salary bump for negotiating was 7.4%, which translated to $500K over the course of a career!

If you are a woman who doesn’t negotiate for your salary, I hope you’re getting that women DO succeed in salary negotiation. And you can too. There’s neuroscience at work here: If you think you will do well, you will do better than if you think you won’t do well. One way to convince yourself that you will do well is to know that others have succeeded before you.

Women face unique challenges in salary negotiation.

Many of the barriers to salary negotiation are internal. I’ve addressed some of those above. Also, women historically have a harder time advocating for themselves than they do for other people—but they are better than men at “representational negotiation”—fighting to get something for another person. Here’s a nifty trick offered by Professor Ellis: If you think you don’t deserve more for yourself, negotiate for someone else in your life, like your family, or even your dog. But ask!

There are also external barriers faced by women. The reality is that women who make demands can be seen as adversarial or confrontational. So how you ask makes a difference. Here are some techniques to work against the negative perceptions that are out there:

  • Don’t make demands in writing. Have a conversation, preferably in person or by Skype. Phone is okay too but it’s great to be able to see each other.
  • Yep. Be friendly.
  • Use “we” instead of “I”—make it about the team and working together toward a common cause.
  • Express enthusiasm about the job from the get-go.
  • Never say it’s non-negotiable.
  • Ask questions vs. making demands. Examples: “Would you consider a salary of $xxx?” “What would you think of my working from home…?”
  • Use humor.
  • Use the power of silence. Let them fill the silence.

Overall, keep in mind that the goal for both you and the employer is a continuing relationship. Both of you want to reach an amiable win-win solution.

I hope you’re feeling more confident that you can go and negotiate for the compensation you want. Next week, I’ll share more about the nuts and bolts strategy of salary negotiation, which applies to men and women alike.


  1. Superb advice Brenda, particularly on negotiating in person or over Skype. Research shows that we are much more empathetic when we can see the person we’re negotiating with.

    Even looking anxious can harm your chances –

    How can we avoid that? It’s pretty tough – one way can be to think about negotiating as a collaborative process in which you, too, have power.

    Another handy tip is to avoid framing things using negotiating terms – instead of saying, “Can we negotiate?” Try saying, “Let’s chat about… and find a solution to…”

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