What Every Woman Needs to Know About Negotiating a Salary

Ever wonder how to be more effective when negotiating a salary or raise? If so, read my interview with Bobbi Thomason, Senior Fellow and Lecturer at The Wharton School and International Researcher for Sheryl Sandberg's.
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Ever wonder how to be more effective when negotiating a salary or raise? If so, read my interview with Bobbi Thomason, Senior Fellow and Lecturer at The Wharton School and International Researcher for Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and an advisor to the Lean In Foundation. She has done extensive research on men and women's experiences negotiating in local and global settings.

Q: What would you say are some of the top challenges woman face when negotiating a salary or even a raise?

A: The first thing I would say is, women are negotiating all the time. I think there's this popular narrative that women don't negotiate, or don't ask, or don't know how to negotiate. However that is not what we see happening in the research. For example, there is very interesting data documenting situations where women may be negotiating more than men and may be even more effective than men, for example when women negotiate on behalf of someone else. So, the first challenge for women is to weed through some of the popular headlines that are sending the message that they're actually not negotiating.

Given that women are making the decision to negotiate for themselves, there are really two challenges for them to manage. The first is the relational component of the negotiation. We know that stereotypes of women result in the expectation that women are warm, nurturing and concerned for others. As a result, women, more so than men, can receive what we call a social penalty when they negotiate. In the context of negotiating for themselves, say advocating for why they deserve a higher salary, women are evaluated more harshly than men. In a negotiation when the same words that a man would use come from a woman, data shows that she's more likely to be seen as being rudely assertive.

The second dynamic to manage is that women need to bring strategic information to their negotiations. One negotiation move that would behoove women is to show that their claim is a valid and reasonable request. This is particularly a challenge for women, because women and men may be accessing different information through their social and professional networks. Research has documented how women and men are in different social networks. If men are generally paid more than women, are generally in more senior roles that get paid more, and are in industries, like finance, that are higher paying than female dominated industries, like education, they are likely to be sharing information with one another, that women may not be accessing when they speak with their peers. When we think purely about what's an average salary, women are going to be accessing different data points.

Q: What are some ways that women can overcome these challenges you mention?

A: First, women can use something called a relational claim. This is when women frame their request in terms of relationships, which can make their request seem more appropriate. Women might say, "My supervisor suggested I speak with you about my compensation". Or, women might frame their request as being best for the organization, such as "Our team needs these resources in order to have a successful project."

Women can also be mindful of who they are asking for professional advice and information. When women are proactive about extending their circles broadly ,and certainly when they're looking for a job or thinking through approaching a negotiation, women will be able to access a wider array of information. Hopefully, this includes learning standards of high salaries and favorable work terms.

Finally, when women negotiate, they pave the way for women to negotiate after them.
We know that stereotypes happen and exist because they capture patterns that people see in the world around them and that they're essentially short cuts our brains use. Fortunately we have the potential to shift those stereotypes.

Q: What do you think the future holds when it comes to women negotiating salary?

A: There's no reason that we can't see change around women negotiating salary and simply seeing more women at negotiating tables. We need to get more women at negotiating tables, not only in corporate boardrooms, but across all sectors. I'm optimistic that women are motivated and that men are becoming part of a conversation around gender quality.

I am also struck by hearing women reflecting on the women that have helped them and how they themselves want to help other women. Women helping other women is a hugely important and also under-reported phenomenon. Women can and need to be looking out for other women and advocating for them. That should be a responsibility that men take on as well -- being aware that there is a gender gap in conversation and in leadership representations. Men should also look out for women and make sure that they're mentoring and advocating on behalf of, not only men coming up in their organization, but also women.

That said I have a cautious fit of optimism, because we've really stagnated in terms of gender quality, across multiple metrics, whether that be a pay gap or woman's representation in the boardrooms. We've flat lined in the past 20 to 30 years. I don't think that progress is by any means inevitable.

I worry that there is a false sense of accomplishment not just among women, but also among men as well regarding the feminist movement. It's disheartening to hear some version of, "Gender equality is not an issue in my organization, we have one woman leading a division." It makes me want to ask, what about the other 20 or so divisions in their company?

The last point to note is that women gaining leverage in their organizations is going to require changes in our homes. We need to have men getting involved at with childcare and other domestic responsibilities. To support that change, I hope organizations and leaders will reconsider taken-for-granted assumptions about how work gets done and how careers progress. This would support women and men to not only negotiate their salaries, but also the terms of their careers, including time-off or flexible work arrangements.