Women and Negotiating Pay

I can remember it like it was yesterday – looking down at my cell phone to see the BLOCKED wording lighting up on my phone, knowing it was call that could make me jump for joy or send me into a small depression.  I was waiting for my first “big girl” post college job offer. I had just graduated from graduate school with a Master’s Degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology and was chomping at the bit to start my CAREER.

Of course it took six months and many interviews to finally receive a job that was kind of in my field. I was bartending to pay my bills and my patience was wearing thin with late nights and drunk people.  Considering I had put over 18 years into schooling the fact that I couldn’t get a job grated me every night. I had dreams of actually using a check book and having insurance instead of waiting to see if a homemade remedy would fix me before walking into a walk in clinic.

As I held my breath, I answered the phone and heard the glorious words every recent college graduate wants to hear “Hello Katie this is blah, blah and we would like to offer you a position with blah, blah.”  I exhale and begin to grin ear from ear. Human resources then begins to discuss the details and I just keep saying “That would be great! No problem. You actually give me paid vacation? Insurance benefits!” and then they mentioned the salary.

I think about this now and realize I really didn’t listen to the salary and when I did it seemed like a lot. I had been so broke for so many years that the number they put out was amazing to me. I also remember thinking I cannot turn this down since nobody else has offered me a job and my school loans are coming.

This is how I started my new job, no questions, and absolutely no negotiations. I started my position and years later realize unlike my male coworkers I had made the classic mistake of just accepting the first offer. I did not even ask for a penny more, or negotiate anything. I just smiled and took what they gave me.

Over the years talking to many career women I have heard the same story when it comes to their first or any job offer they have received.

“I just needed a job so I didn’t want to rock the boat.”

“I didn’t want to start out upsetting my hiring boss by asking for more money.”

“What if they said no?”

“I feel awkward asking for more money.”

Well ladies I have some news for you. Most men out there do not have a problem asking for more money. This is why I sometimes blame the difference in pay between the sexes to our own insecurities and not due to some other sexist old style ideal. Do not get me wrong, I realize I am simplifying a very complex issue but after doing a small survey of my own I realized we are screwing ourselves and our worth out of the money we deserve.

I surveyed about 150 women and do you want to know how many actually negotiated for more salary or benefits?


Yup you see that correctly. Only five women actually negotiated for a salary! I was floored but then again couldn’t be surprised since I, just like many women, did not want to rock the boat. We need to recognize like many of our male counterparts that we will not cause waves or issues. We have to recognize that human resources and managers expect a negotiation. I know this does not apply to everyone but for many jobs, the hiring manager will try to sway you to take a lower salary. Do you want to know why?

They have a budget themselves which they have to try to stick to or will get a better bonus if they stick below it. I spoke to a few managers in different fields and they all agreed they will always low ball so that the “negotiations” can begin. If they take it then that’s even better and they look better to their bosses for getting a great candidate at such a low price.

I always tell younger women to always ask for something whether it is more money, more vacation time, flex, etc. The worst they can say is no, but if we do not ask then we will never know what we could have gained. Do your research and see what the national or regional average is for your position.

I think that women who have been in our careers longer need to reach out to younger women and help build their confidence to negotiate. We need to explain that it may seem weird but you may get more if you just ask. Hell, I think colleges should offer negotiation classes to make all of us feel less awkward. Unfortunately many other countries use bartering and negotiations in their daily life for everyday shopping so it translates better for them in their careers. This does not mean we cannot learn to negotiate but to do so we must at least try.

So ladies go outside your comfort zone and ask. You will be amazed that other people recognize you are worth a little more money and they do really want you in the position.

Did you negotiate? Do you wish you had?

4 thoughts on “Women and Negotiating Pay

  1. When I was an associate at a large law firm (in Chicago), we had a “Women’s Forum” to address women advancing at large law firms. About once a year, we’d get the same talk from a consultant: women don’t ask for raises–unless specifically told to ask for more money. Ever. We take what we’re given and assume the men are doing the same. And, not only that, when both men and women are told: “you must ask for more money,” the men always ask for significantly more money. And more likely than not, the men get what they ask for–or at least more than the women asked for, and the women would get what they asked for–but not the same amount as the men. (We also would have training sessions on how to sell yourself and remind partners and clients how much good you do for them–because women in general tend to assume that others see what we’re doing so we don’t highlight everything we’ve done.) This is such an important issue–and does explain some of the gender gap for salary in professional roles.

  2. Thanks Katie, this is such an important issue that I think doesn’t even hit the radar of most women. No one ever taught me to negotiate about salary, and it wasn’t until I was working as an attorney for a while … quite a while … that I realized exactly what you are saying. Even now, although I like to think I would negotiate my salary and benefits for another job if I were to take one now, who knows what I would do? It’s funny how I have no qualms pushing another lawyer about a settlement on behalf of a client, but when it comes to MYSELF I somehow feel awkward or “don’t want to rock the boat.” I think we need to look at the social and cultural reasons for this gender disparity. Sarah, I think the issue with public school teachers is that you are dealing with “step and lane” salary schedules negotiated in advance by your union, and your placement on that scale is going to be based solely on your years of experience and educational level.

  3. I hate to admit this but I have never negotiated pay. My first job out of college was offered to me without even applying and I took it. It was very low paying but it was a job that allowed me to do work in social justice. When I got my current job the salary was literally almost twice what I was making and I called the hiring manager back twice to ask her to repeat the salary to me, I couldn’t believe it! It didn’t even occur to me to try to ask for more.

  4. That is really interesting! Huh! I think it does depend on the field, to an extent. There’s pretty much zero room for negotiating with teaching positions. It’s very much linked to your education and years of service, even in private schools. I, too, was so super excited to make a living wage and have INSURANCE that I practically did a cartwheel when I got my first contracted job (which, by the way, paid HORRIBLY, hahahaha).

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