One of my very first full-time jobs was for a cruise ship operation in Florida. I was one year out of college, newly married, and new to the area. I had left a plum job as a program manager back home, where I had been part of a tight-knit “family.” When I moved across the US, however, I had to start over, out of my network and completely outside of my comfort zone.
I applied for several positions, but got a call almost immediately from the cruise line. I was hired right away, and was so relieved and grateful to have found a job that I didn’t worry so much about the salary or the benefits package much. I naively believed that my new employer would be looking out for my best interests.
The human resources director tossed out a salary figure that at the time I thought was low, but she quickly added, “That’s a fair salary, for your level of experience,” before I even had a chance to protest. “Oh. Okay,” I lamely agreed. I hadn’t done my research; I didn’t know the market. She knew best, I thought.
But there was one exception. I heard through the office grapevine that one of the youngest recruits there, hired at the same time as the rest of us, had a salary that was one-third higher than ours. How was this possible? She was the least educated and experienced of all of us. Finally, we asked her what her secret was. What had she said or done to get that sweet salary? “I asked for it,” she said simply. “Because that’s what I’m worth.”
Lesson learned, end of story. Just ask, and you’ll get it.
Why is Asking for Money So Hard for Women?
It’s long been the assumption that women are less likely to negotiate a salary than men, because they don’t want to seem pushy or to offend someone. There’s some validity to this assumption. Negotiating, some argue, runs counter to the conventional “feminine” qualities of selflessness and self-effacement.
This is particularly true in traditionally “male” industries, like tech, where women are less likely to negotiate their first offer. And when they do negotiate, they’ll often ask for less than a man would—just about $7,000 less.
The result? At least in the tech field, women ages 18-25 were found to receive a whopping 29% less pay than men.
There is a notable exception, however. In research studies, if a woman negotiated on behalf of someone else, she’d ask for the same amount as a man. The assumption is that it’s because it’s not a reflection on herself, because she’s standing up for another person.
Okay—so if you muster up the courage to ask, then you’ll get it, right? Not quite. The fact is, even if women do negotiate their salaries, they are less likely to actually get what they want. In fact, they’re three times less likely than men to get it. There’s also some risk involved, as studies have also shown that when women initiate salary negotiations, it may even backfire on them.
It’s easy enough for someone to advise, “Just ask for it,” whether it’s a raise or your starting salary. But the reality is, you need to be aware of your options and the potential risks when it comes to negotiating your pay.
9 Tips to Negotiate Pay Successfully
Consider the following pieces of advice for salary or raise negotiations before you take the leap:
1. Have a strategy in mind before you ask.
This means you need a clear idea of what you want and when you want it, and you’re fully aware of the risks involved in asking.
2. Ask for what you’re worth and what you deserve, not just what you need.
Everyone needs to cover their basic expenses—whether it includes rent, a mortgage, utility bills, what have you. Many women feel undeserving of what they want, but will ask for what they need. “I need x amount,” they rationalize, “because that will cover my rent, utilities, and food bill.” The thing is, it’s very likely that what you deserve and what you’re worth exceeds your basic needs. This was my problem at the get-go—I was just so grateful to work, and I felt that my salary covered my expenses.
3. Negotiate with the whole organization in mind, and not just you, the individual.
This may lessen the chances of a negotiation going awry if you couch your request in terms of how it will help the company. On the flip side, be prepared to demonstrate how you contribute to your company in concrete, measurable ways.
4. Do your research.
Look around and listen up for comparable jobs in similar organizations, and see what the going rate is for your position and level of experience. Take into consideration the cost of living in your area as well. Websites like PayScale and Salary.com are good places to start, but you’ll also need to use your network and reach out to those in the know.
5. Consider the whole package.
You can negotiate your benefits as well as your salary. Maybe your small company can’t pay you much more, but perhaps they can cover your medical insurance fully, or maybe grant you more paid leave.
6. Think objectively and imagine yourself as someone else.
If you’d advocate for someone else, but not yourself, then think in that way. List your qualifications, past experience, and salary history, and determine what that person would deserve, regardless of gender. When you look outside of yourself, you might be amazed at how much more you’d ask for.
7. Be realistic.
Before you go all out and ask for that 30% raise, make sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable and fair. Again, do your research.
8. Practice, practice, practice.
Negotiating is a skill, and one that gets better with practice. Check out the free tips and resources that are available to you on sites like Stanford University’s Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership and Lean In, or consider attending a negotiation workshop with an organization like the WAGE project.
9. Set a minimum goal and be prepared to either walk away or walk back to your desk.
This is a scary one—what if you don’t get what you want? What if the answer is flat-out “no”? You’ll need to consider the possibilities and be willing to make changes if your request isn’t met, whether fully, or half way, or even a quarter of the way. Your minimum might be a dollar amount, or it might be a timeframe—maybe not now, but the promise to revisit this in three months. Just be sure to hold others accountable to that deadline, and yourself to that minimum.
Make it Count!
If you still need some motivation to ask, just remember this: what you do now will set the stage for your time at your organization and your future at other companies as well. If you negotiate your salary early on, you’ll likely affect your chance at future promotions and competitive salaries at other companies.
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Lynn Ink is a university-level educator, writer, editor, women’s rights advocate and mom to three teens and a Border Collie. She loves Netflix binge-watching, blueberry pancakes and researching everything from historical events to remote places. She squirrels away most of her writing for no one to read, but is happy to share her work with LiveYourDream.org to help women and girls achieve their fullest potential. Currently, she’s working on a novel about a caregiver who chucks it all for an epic road trip and an In-N-Out burger. Maybe she’ll share it one day.