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Why Women Don’t Negotiate Salary, and What to Do About It

We've all heard about the gender wage gap, and experts love to wax eloquent on the reasons why women make less money. Some say that women tend to choose occupations that pay less, others blame women for taking time out to raise children. There is plenty of evidence pointing to another reason, however: research shows that women make less money than men for performing the same work because of societal expectations of behavior for men and women. Women likely fall victim to these expectations even if we don't realize it; we can counter these deep-seated cultural norms to our own benefit.

We’ve all heard about the gender wage gap, and experts love to wax eloquent on the reasons why women make less money. Some say that women tend to choose occupations that pay less, others blame women for taking time out to raise children. There is plenty of evidence pointing to another reason, however: research shows that women make less money than men for performing the same work because of societal expectations of behavior for men and women. Women likely fall victim to these expectations even if we don’t realize it; we can counter these deep-seated cultural norms to our own benefit.

(Photo Credit: 401(K) 2013/Flickr)  

Sony made headlines when the news was leaked that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams made much less money than their male counterparts in the movie American Hustle. The fact that we are talking about movie stars making millions per gig may reasonably cause the rest of us to feel less sympathetic. But the expectation that women make less money than men is harmful to working women.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

To add insult to injury, departing Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal defended the decision to pay Lawrence and Adams less than the men.

“I run a business,” Pascal said at the recent Women in the World event in San Francisco. “People want to work for less money, I’ll pay them less money. I don’t call them up and go, can I give you some more? They have to walk away. People shouldn’t be so grateful for jobs.”

In other words, Pascal relates to the situation as an executive who wants to save money, not a woman with sympathy for other women. Furthermore, she places the blame for women’s lower pay squarely on the women themselves. Negotiate, she implies, and you’ll get what you deserve. But is that true? 

Why Women Don’t Negotiate

PayScale’s recently released Salary Negotiation Guide shows that many men and women share a reluctance to negotiate salary. Similar percentages of men and women who did not negotiate said that they didn’t do so, because of the following reasons:

  • “I didn’t want to be perceived as pushy.” (18 percent of women, 20 percent of men.)
  • “I’m worried about losing my job.” (8 percent of women, 8 percent of men.)
  • “I’ve always been happy with my salary.” (7 percent of women, 9 percent of men.)

However, women were significantly more likely to choose the option “I’m uncomfortable negotiating salary” — 31 percent of women, as opposed to 23 percent of men, chose that option.

In addition, women have more reason to fear repercussions of negotiating. Employers are more likely to penalize women for being assertive and engaging in professional and appropriate negotiation. Research also indicates that men are more likely to be given the raises for which they negotiate, and men are given higher raises than their female equals at work.

How to Negotiate

All is not lost; women may still negotiate and earn greater salaries and more money over the course of their working years.

Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Professor Margaret A. Neale is an expert on negotiating skills for women. One problem women have when negotiating is the cultural perception that they are caregivers, or that they should be communally oriented. Neale tells women to use this to their advantage.

“One thing I would encourage women to do is to have a communal motivation for asking for more,” Neale says at Forbes. “If I’m a man and I’m negotiating a salary, I can talk about my competencies. What women need to do is yoke their competencies with a communal concern.”

By doing so, you change the conversation. It’s not just “what I can do for you,” but “how I help the organization and the business community.”

Negotiating Starting Pay

If you looking for a job and receive a job offer, remember these three cardinal rules:

1. Always negotiate starting pay. If you don’t, you are likely leaving money on the table. That unearned money adds up over the years and you will be less well off when you retire.

2. Never, never, never state a number. And refer to rule No. 1. Even if the offered pay is more than you expected, don’t let this show. Instead, negotiate for a little more. The employer likely has a range in which he or she can offer; and the employer is unlikely to offer you the highest pay available, so there is probably room to negotiate.

3. Practice and be prepared. You don’t want your voice to shake, so practice negotiating for more money in front of a mirror, to your cat, and to the shower walls.

When you get that raise or higher starting salary, earn it. Do your job the best you can to show that you appreciate being paid what you are worth.

Tell Us What You Think

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