It Pays to Negotiate

Oct 31, 2021

This month I want to share with you tips for successfully negotiating your employment package. Unfortunately, too many women accept whatever is offered and do not negotiate. While initially, this may not seem like a big deal, over time it matters. 

Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of the book “Women Don’t Ask” tells her students that “by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career, they're leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime." In researching for her book, she found that about 7% of women upon graduating with an MBA attempted to negotiate the first salary offer while a whopping 57% of men did!  

How does that impact women? Megan Karsh, who teaches negotiation at Stanford Law School says, “Imagine two people are given a job offer of $50,000, which is close to the average for a new college graduate – one negotiates an initial $5,000 bump and a 5% raise every three years, but the other accepts the offer and a company-standard 1% pay increase each year without negotiating. After a 45-year career, the difference in their lifetime earnings is $1,062,739.19.”

Assuming you don’t want to leave over a million dollars on the table, I’ll be providing you with tips throughout the month of October to help you negotiate your employment package. 

Plan Your Negotiation

A good negotiation is a planned negotiation. As you are thinking through the negotiation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the salary you want?
  • What else do you want?  
  • Equity / Options? 
  • Does your job title matter to you?
  • What is your path to promotion?
  • Does the job description accurately describe what you anticipate doing?
  • How flexible is your job?  
  • Can you work from home?  
  • How much paid leave do you get?
  • Do you have to move for the job and, if so, is there a relocation package?
  • Are there any other benefits you want: retirement plans, insurance, maternity leave?

You want to consider the whole of the employment package ahead of time. And for each of the questions above, consider what is the least amount you are willing to accept. This will ensure that you don’t go below that.  

Not only do you want to think about these questions from your point of view, but also the company’s. What’s at stake for them? What do they need to ensure in order for your employment to be successful?   

For many organizations, job titles, paths to promotion and getting more women into their organizations matter a great deal. Particularly in the world of law firms and tech, where I do the most work, bringing great women in and keeping them matters a whole lot. The more you know about what they want and need the better.  

When it comes specifically to pay, it’s important to arrive at a number that you want and to anchor the negotiation by asking for more than that. Choose a number that is not too high but one that your employer can come down from and you will still be happy with the outcome. Research shows that the amount you are paid is 30% higher when you make the first offer! To come up with a starting offer, do your homework.  

Here are some places you can look to find what comparable companies are paying for the job you want.  

  • Glassdoor, a job search site where employees post compensation and reviews for large companies 
  • Payscale, a salary survey tool
  • Salary.com, a salary calculator
  • The Salary Project, a site where you can submit and view salary data anonymously 
  • Get That Raise, a tool that analyzes your current salary and helps you map future goals 

Once you’ve figured out what you want and where you are going to begin your negotiation, you are well on your way!

Bring Optimism to the Table.

Positive emotions are contagious and employers want to hire enthusiastic and ambitious people. As you begin the negotiation process, speak about how excited you are to be having the conversation in the first place and share a few things that the company is working on that align with your interests, experience and strengths.

Let’s say you are negotiating for a pay raise with your current employer. If you are frustrated with how you’ve been treated or a gender imbalance in pay, I get it. Best, however, not to lead with complaints but rather with solutions. Perhaps you can point to the evidence of pay differentials and say, “I know the company takes this very seriously and I would love to help in being part of the solution.” Or you can say, “My manager has given me great feedback about what leads to a raise and a promotion here, and I’m excited to share with you all that I’ve done and how it’s contributed to our company’s goals.”

If you are someone who tends to speak very directly and candidly, do so while also paying attention to how your style is resonating with the other person. You can be assertive and smile and be open to the conversation at the same time. 

Sadly, this is something we women have to watch out for because it is the sad truth that when women behave in the same ways as men, we may be judged unfairly. When men are direct, they are clear and assertive and yet women behaving in the same way can be judged as pushy and unlikeable. That is something we have to break from within the system but for now, the most important thing we can do is bring our own emotional intelligence into the process.

Watch for relational clues about how what you are saying is landing with them. If you perceive that they are reacting to you as coming on too strong, then label it, “did I come on too strong?” And maybe add, “I want to be as clear and transparent with you as I can be because I am enthusiastic about this opportunity and committed to what we can create together.“  

Frame your negotiation as a cooperative effort, assume positive intention, body language and tone signal that you want to work together. Anytime you find yourself leading with “I” replace it with “we” so instead of saying, “I want to…” try “what is best for us is…” 

Gender Stereotypes and Negotiation. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to negotiating a salary package, the rules that apply to men do not necessarily apply to women. While men appearing to be assertive, dominant, decisive and ambitious when they advocate for themselves is considered a good thing, it is not always the case for women, who are expected to be nurturing, kind and easy to work with. This is gender bias at play.  

Sadly, research shows that women are penalized for self-promoting, and our ability to influence increases the more we are liked. This has the unfortunate effect of discouraging us from asking for anything at all because we don’t want to be disliked. It affects self-confidence, assertiveness and asking directly for what we want.  

So what’s the solution other than starting our own company? For one, if you work in male-dominated industries, do everything you can to reduce your token status from the inside.  Recruit other women, mentor younger women, build strong networks of women and do everything you can to change the system.

Second, choose wisely when you think about where you want to work. Look for companies that have an organizational culture that supports women’s advancement, discourages stereotyping and maintains a fair system for evaluating candidates for hire and for promotion.  

 Third, build a case for your salary package. Do all that you can to put a number on your contribution by linking it to metrics in the business. What will you do or have you done that moves the business forward? This is the best way to level the playing field.  

Finally, approach the negotiation as a collaborative dialogue rather than a contest. One of the books I read in law school was called Getting to Yes, which popularized the view that most negotiations are more successful when you approach them with a win/win strategy. To do this, you want to increase the sharing of information as much as possible by asking questions: what does the company need? What are they most interested in? And what are their preferences when it comes to each part of your employment package. By asking questions, listening and sharing information, you can approach the negotiation not as a competitive (and anxiety producing) exercise but rather as a collaborative solution. What does the company need that you have to offer and do you need to make that work. The great news here is that women are better at collaborative approaches than men.

Happy negotiating, and remember: we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take.

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