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How Salary Negotiation Contributes to the Wage Gap

How Salary Negotiation Contributes to the Wage Gap

Do you think you're being paid less than your male colleagues? There's a good chance you may be.

While the gap between men's and women's earnings has been steadily narrowing for the past quarter century, parity has not been achieved.  Among full-time wage and salary earners in 2008, women earned 77.1 cents for every dollar that men earned, according to the Census Bureau data. 

Why the gap? "The gap exists for a number of reasons," says Carol Frohlinger, JD, managing partner of Negotiating Women, a firm specializing in training women to negotiate more effectively. "Some are situational, but some aren't. And whether the reasons are anthropological, psychological or sociological, they're all illogical in today's workplace. The reality is women aren't negotiating money, because most women are reluctant to advocate for themselves."

Frohlinger coauthored a survey of more than 500 women to determine what they do and don't do when it comes to salary negotiations and how they feel about the salary negotiation process. An additional goal of the survey was to understand why women accept less pay than their male counterparts. Frohlinger and her colleagues found that women are uncomfortable negotiating compensation and don't do it as effectively as men.

Survey Highlights

  • Most women simply do not negotiate at all. Only 16 percent of respondents always negotiate compensation when a job offer is made or during performance evaluations. Some respondents believe their companies would acknowledge and reward their accomplishments and efforts, and use that as an excuse to avoid negotiating altogether.
  • Women are not as good at negotiating for themselves as they are for others. Only 15 percent of the respondents strongly believed they are effective negotiators. "Some women have not had very good negotiation experiences in the past or satisfactory outcomes from the process," Frohlinger explains. "Because of that, women aren't anxious to have to do it again. Rather than use each new opportunity to build confidence, there is a tendency to let past experiences undermine their ability to advocate for themselves."
  • Sixty percent of the women surveyed take the outcomes of their salary negotiations personally. Women believe that poor outcomes are a reflection of their overall value to an organization. "While it is about more than just salary, money is one indicator that contributes to an overall feeling of career success," Frohlinger says.

What About You?

Do any of the survey's findings apply to you? Depending on your negotiation situation, Frohlinger offers these tips.

  • Recognize a Negotiation Opportunity and Prepare Yourself: "And that doesn't mean getting ready for a negotiation conversation the day before it happens," says Frohlinger. "Preparing for your year-end performance evaluation is an all-year-long process. That means keeping track of your accomplishments and contributions." If you're considering a job offer, Frohlinger encourages you to "do your homework, benchmark. Find out what other people in your industry and profession are earning."
  • Practice with a Mock Negotiation: "The difference between knowing what to say and actually getting the words out of your mouth is huge," says Frohlinger. "I think people really need to anticipate what they might hear and plan how to respond."
  • Ask Anyway: If you're in a situation where a pay increase is unlikely due to larger economic factors, Frohlinger advises women to "start out by saying, ‘You know, I had a great year. Here's what I've been able to accomplish.' Then let your boss respond."
  • Seek Specifics and Always Follow Up: If you're unable to get the increase you deserve now, Frohlinger recommends asking, "‘How are we going to make up this deficit when things do turn around?' Get your boss to be specific about what and when. Don't let [your boss] be amorphous, because while [he] may have good intentions, the reality is it may not happen."
  • Think Broadly: Frohlinger also encourages women to think about what would be most useful for their career paths. Frohlinger stresses that negotiations don't always have to be limited to compensation. "Ask to manage projects with high visibility or ones that will provide you with career growth," she says. Those are things that over the course of a career can be as important, if not more important, than money.

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