UNDERPAID AGAIN? Women and Salary Negotiations

In a recent workshop, a young woman asked why men tend to get paid more than women. I answered that it's partly a vestige of the days when people thought women who worked were taking a job from a man who had a family to support. If a woman was hired at all, it was usually at a much lower rate. The reasoning was that she didn't really have to work. Another reason is that many women are less aggressive in salary negotiations because it goes against their upbringing. Women are generally taught to be "nice" to "avoid confrontation," and they fear being seen as "pushy" or "overly aggressive."  Consequently, many women have never sought to learn and to play the game of negotiations well. The results are often devastating to women's incomes. Not only do they miss the immediate gain of a higher salary when they are initially hired, but raises are often based on a percentage of current earnings. One academic estimated that a 22-year-old woman who accepts a $25,000 starting salary instead of negotiating for $30,000 could lose over $500,000 by the time she reaches 60. 
Equally devastating is the impact on her self-esteem, her attitude, and her future promotions. Here's what happened to a client named Cindy. She was a superstar in her department at the company where she had worked for five years. She got the tough assignments, and masterfully completed them one after another. All was going well in her job and career until one day, a co-worker somehow obtained a list of the salaries of everyone in the department and passed it around the office. Cindy was dumbfounded when she noticed that a man who been hired a few months ago at her same level was earning $10,000 more than Cindy-for doing much less work!  Cindy said, "That day, I lost all motivation for the job. After that, I just went through the motions."  She was no longer the office superstar, and became a prime candidate for a layoff and career downfall.Fortunately, she started working on a job move before she suffered the consequences of the decline in her performance.  When she became a client, it took a lot of work to overcome her reluctance to ask for what she's worth. We told her that by developing their negotiating skills, women not only get more money, but they also tend to get more respect. Often, their work is valued more than when they just accept whatever is offered.  Here's what we recommended to Cindy-and anyone else who is a "patsy" when it comes to negotiations.

  • First, realize that negotiating well doesn't equal being "pushy" and "obnoxious." It's expected.
  • Second, do your homework to find out what people are getting paid for the kind of position you are seeking. Good sources include, several web sites, professional associations, peers, and watching the ads in the paper for salaries offered.
  • Third, study the rules of salary negotiations (Jack Chapman's book, "Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute" is nationally recognized as a "bible" for job hunters). Develop your responses to employer salary questions.
  • Fourth, practice with a friend, family member, or career coach so that you anchor your new responses and the new behavior in your body.

 Although Cindy nearly had a heart attack while we practiced being a more "aggressive" negotiator, she did quite well. Based in part on her research, we suggested that she push hard for more money and certain benefits and perks.  Cindy protested, "But I've never done such a thing. Aren't I being ungrateful? What if they get mad at me and rescind their offer?" She was floored when they agreed to a $5,000 signing bonus, tuition reimbursement, and starting pay of $10,000 above their initial offer. Like many women, Cindy found that she can win the salary negotiations game.