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3 Salary Negotiation Mistakes That Cost Women Serious Money

Women still earn less than men, even when they hold the same jobs and have similar educational backgrounds, skills and experience. The popular myth is that women make less money because they’re less likely to negotiate. But, PayScale’s data tell a different story.
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Our survey shows that women were nearly as likely as men to ask for raises: 42 percent of women and 44 percent of men reported having asked for a raise in their current field. However, only 43 percent of women who asked received the amount they requested, compared to 46 percent of men. And 26 percent of female negotiators said they received no raise at all. (Only 23 percent of men said the same.)

The bottom line is the gender pay gap can’t be explained away as the result of women failing to ask. But to get the salary they deserve, women often have to go above and beyond in their preparations for negotiating.

If you’re a woman who wants to earn more, avoid these mistakes:

1. Not negotiating starting salary.

There’s no better time to increase your pay than when you take a new job. Most hiring managers expect candidates to negotiate during the offer phase; knowing that may make the experience less stressful.

Plus, the penalty for not negotiating is pretty steep.

“I tell my graduate 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,” economist Linda Babcock tells NPR.

The popular myth is that women make less money because they’re less likely to negotiate. But, PayScale’s data tell a different story.Click To Tweet

2. Playing your cards too close to your chest.

Salary history can be a trap for women, especially if they were forced to take low-ball offers earlier in their career. Because of this, some cities and states are enacting legislation prohibiting employers from asking about past pay rates.

In the meantime, however, it’s a favorite question of hiring managers. Common sense might tell you that the best way to cope with it is to refuse to answer. In this case, common sense is wrong.

PayScale’s report, Is Asking for Salary History … History?, shows that women who decline to give their salary history when asked earn 1.8 percent less than those who reveal it. The opposite is true for men, who earn 1.2 percent more if they refuse to reveal their salary history.

Why is this so? Likely, because of unconscious bias. Women may be penalized for withholding information because they’re perceived as unpleasant or uncooperative, while men may be seen as capable negotiators.

Knowing this, you might choose to reveal your salary history if asked — but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your offer should be based on it. You can discuss your previous pay while still focusing negotiations on the job at hand.

Your compensation should be based on the market rate for the job, given your skills, experience, geographic location and other factors. Do your research ahead of time — PayScale’s Salary Survey will give you a free report with a salary range based on your qualifications — and then go into the negotiation with those numbers in mind.

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3. Negotiating “like a man.”

Someday, hopefully workers will be able to negotiate based on their actual value on the job market, not outdated social ideas about how men and women should be in the workplace. Until then, it pays to understand what you’re up against, as a woman who’s asking for more.

“In repeated studies, the social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men,” writes Hannah Riley Bowles, director of the Women and Power Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard Business Review. “Men can certainly overplay their hand and alienate negotiating counterparts. However, in most published studies, the social cost of negotiating for pay is not significant for men, while it is significant for women.”

Bowles’ own research shows that both men and women were resistant to female negotiators, due to “perceptions of niceness and demandingness.”

So, what’s the answer? Some experts recommend finding a communal concern for negotiating. For example, a woman applying for a job that includes negotiating among its duties might point out that the organization would be wrong to hire a candidate who didn’t negotiate her own salary.

Regardless of approach, it’s important for negotiators both male and female to base their negotiations on data. When you know your worth, it’s easier to ask for it.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the biggest salary negotiation mistake you’ve ever made? We want to hear from you. Tell us your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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