By: Alexandra Mislin, Associate Professor of Management, American University
Equal Pay Day falls in 2023 on March 14 — a date determined by how long into the new year American women must work to catch up to American men’s earnings the previous year. In 2022, women earned 82% of what men earned. The wage gap for Black and Hispanic women is even higher — these groups made 70% and 65%, respectively, of what white men made.
Some of the gender pay gap can be attributed to differences in how women negotiate.
This is not to say that women don’t negotiate as well as men, or even less often. Women are negotiating well and self-advocating in their careers every day – sometimes more actively and effectively than their male counterparts. Women have been observed to negotiate exceptions to typical work or business practices more than men. This includes, for example, negotiating a remote work arrangement prior to the pandemic.
That’s because salary negotiations are generally seen as competitive situations that favor men and masculinity. In such settings, self-advocating violates societal norms that women should be kind and communal. According to the authors of one study, women anticipating backlash from attempting to negotiate “hedge their assertiveness, using fewer competing tactics and obtaining lower outcomes.”
The fear of backlash is reasonable. Men and women alike say they are less willing to work with women who ask to be paid more.
Here are five tips that you can start applying today to be more effective in your workplace negotiations. These strategies benefit women but represent best practices for anyone seeking higher pay regardless of where they identify on the gender spectrum.
1. Think before you ask
Consider what you really want before you launch into your negotiation – hit pause and take a step back. How does what you’re asking for fit into your bigger work or life aspirations? You might start with a focus on a salary increase, but what you really want is an accelerated promotion track.
Negotiating professional development opportunities and your role at work may do more to help close the pay gap than getting paid more than you are currently earning. So, take stock of your goals and make sure you are focusing on negotiating about the right issues.
2. Communicate your value
Once your purpose and objective are clear, figure out how to articulate your value. Women are more persuasive and reduce the risk of backlash when they explain why what they are asking for is appropriate and justified. As you do this, put yourself into the hiring manager’s or your boss’s shoes and consider how the request you are making is legitimate from their perspective. How can, for example, your data visualization skills help your team communicate more successfully at the next client meeting? How can you position what you are asking for, such as a promotion to senior analyst, in terms of bigger business goals, like expanding the client base?
When women articulate their value while considering the other person’s objectives, their negotiation behavior is perceived as more socially acceptable and women are better positioned to succeed.
3. Ask for more than just salary
Gender differences are most likely to arise when it is less clear whether negotiating is appropriate. This might be a job that doesn’t explicitly indicate that wages are negotiable, or where the salary range is not disclosed. In these cases, women are less inclined to negotiate because they anticipate backlash. This applies not just to salary or wage negotiations, but also negotiations for other opportunities, including promotion, work assignments, developmental opportunities and resources.
When you are not sure whether negotiating is appropriate, ask around and gather information from trusted sources. Use your network, but also stretch beyond your network. You may want to seek advice from, for example, men in male-dominated work settings. People tend to connect with others who are similar in age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, so information from your close network can be skewed. Find out what people are negotiating at work and reduce the social risk of asking by decreasing ambiguity around whether negotiating is appropriate.
4. Check your mindset
Whether you see yourself as a reluctant negotiator, a competitive negotiator or a people-pleaser, what matters more is your mindset going into the negotiation. A review of individual differences in negotiations identified the single best predictor of performance as having a positive mindset – confidence in one’s own ability and confidence that it is appropriate to negotiate.
A positive mindset also means approaching negotiations with curiosity. Make it about trying to work out a problem, not winning a fight. This approach is more aligned with social expectations that women are communal, and it is also a best practice that produces better results.
Even if the other person starts with no, don’t let that derail your negotiation. Prepare to stay at the table and find out why. If you cannot get the salary increase you are asking for, maybe you can successfully negotiate a developmental opportunity and revisit the salary conversation in six months.
5. Don’t skip the small talk
On the other side of the negotiation is a person, and you will find it easier to reach a solution together if you get along. Small talk before the negotiation helps build the relationship and can have a positive effect on your negotiations. Familiarity with the employer may even give women a bigger boost than men. So get to know the person you will be negotiating with personally, and don’t skip the small talk.
Practice these five tips and keep negotiating. The more experience you have negotiating, the better you will do. And the better results women get from negotiating well will help shrink the gender pay gap between men and women.