Salary Negotiation Primer for the Ladies

Feminist (n.) – a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

I am a feminist, and I like this definition the best.  I got that from a song by Beyoncé in her last album.  The quote is by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk.

Feminism today is not about suffrage or bra burning – it’s about equality of opportunity of both sexes.  My primary feminist issue  is actually around empowering men to take up the vital and fulfilling tole of taking care of a family’s domestic affairs.  It’s absolutely important, and the longer we keep men out of the proverbial kitchen, the longer we’re keeping women out of the proverbial board room (or any other stage for female breadwinning activities) .  Slightly different topic than this essay – one that I’ll cover in another one later. But it’s a good intro, because the assumption that wage earning for families is first and foremost a man’s job hurts women (and men, but again that’s for later).

This socially held belief fuels a sense of  necessary entitlement by many men when negotiating compensation for their jobs. The idea that they and their salary negotiation partner enter negotiations assuming this social norm – that this employee must provide – means they are more likely across the board to push for what they feel they are worth and for the negotiating partner (hiring or HR manager) to agree to it. It also implies that this person will be more committed to their job due to their “responsibilities.”

An interesting notion, that is – feelings of worth.  How it affects our ability to ask for things. Women have the strikingly ironic double-whammy disadvantage when it comes to compensation at work. I’m aware I’m making a bold-face stereotype here which I’ll validate with my personal experience dealing with recruitment and personal compensation conversations.  I will also back-edit this with links to relevant primary sources where possible.

So, my double-whammy stereotype.  Here it is.  Women feel they must demonstrate value before they are comfortable asking for what they feel they deserve.  Men, substantially less uncomfortable with this.  This means – not only do ambitious* women often then work harder than their male counterparts – they do so without asking for more money first! More value contribution, less pay. A capitalist’s dream!  Why then is corporate land not riddled with women absolutely everywhere?

Because women also struggle to self-promote in the workplace for the same reasons, leading to stagnant career progression, lack of engagement, and an eventual “oh, fuck it” take on their job or professional ambitions.

(*note – less ambitious people in general would not be fitting in this category)

As a hiring manager, I see the discrepancy all. the. time. As a hiring manager, I’m very objective about what a salary should be for a role.  It’s driven by the market. And that salary respresent a the value the individual is expected to bring to the company. Now I have hosted probably hundreds interviews, and I can honestly say the following:

A) With the exception of about one of my female hires, no ladies have come back to negotiate my initial salary offer.

B) When I ask about salary expectations, most women say they don’t have any (!! To be fair, men are pretty bad at this too, but it’s an opportunity to place your anchor point to negotiate from.  Trust me, you do have salary expectations.)

C) When men come back with a counter offer, they have rarely if ever given a reason why that’s performance related.  Men seem to not feel the need to self promote to justify higher pay, whereas I coach my female employees to self promote as much as possible when asking for more $$.  I coach my male employees this, too, but women need his coaching more.

We’ve got to seriously do something to help half our population out to get fair and equal compensation. Women make $0.87 for every $1.00 a man makes in the same role.  In the USA.  I work in a part of the world a little less gender equal than western countries, so I imagine it’s worse here.  However, it should be said that the UAE is literally decades ahead of neighboring Saudi and other middle eastern countries,  where women are still struggling to get drivers licenses or permission to leave the country without male approval.  But even in the UAE – these are things I see play out every day.

So what are my experiences? Well, I’m pretty good at self promotion (see what I did there? Clever. Oh, and I’m doing it again! Stop it now!) but I’m not going to lie – salary negotiations have never been easy for me.  I’m still not great at them.  My gut instinct is I would rather outperform my job for a long while and then make a pitch for more money.  Especially if I feel like the company is doing me a favor by even giving me the career progression opportunity. But let me tell you, compensation is about a company demonstrating their commitment to the value you bring to the table – not about the value the company brings to your career.  And talking about salary gets easier (if not natural) the more you do it.  So, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned about salary negotiations – tips for ladies who want their businesses to demonstrate the value they place on your contributions.

1) Hit the hesitation around “they might say no!” head on.

Alright, so the whole “feelings about my worth” concern means that the idea of asking for more and being told no would be devastating to a hard working lady (or dude). But there’s two things here.  First, if you really feel you’re not being properly recognized for your work and you’ve done everything you can to be recognized, it’s time for you to tell the company you’re done. Really – the number of terrible bosses I encountered through my career (oh lord, both directly and as an observer) make me feel there’s a good change that it’s them, not you. Second, if you don’t have the compensation discussion I will personally guarantee you are getting the bad end of the deal. And if  your boss/company do value your contribution and you give them tangible examples of your over-performance, you will probably get something additional for asking them to demonstrate that they do value you.  If they say no, I’d argue they owe you a performance-related answer for turning down your request. If they can’t give one (and there is no externality, such as the market’s way down), then… Yeah, start looking for a new manager! In fact, even if there are externalities – test the market and see what you’re worth to other people.

I will caveat this whole thing and say this assumes you aren’t just crap at your job. You might be. But again – if your boss hasn’t already told you they think you’re crap, unless you prompt this conversation with your boss, you’ll likely never know they think that’s case. And that’s something that really should get talked about too.

2) Your mantra should be “If I’m doing a job well in a way which allows your company to make more money, I deserve a cut.”

Even fundraisers who work for non-profits make a killing because they are really good at brining $$ into the organization.  This is capitalism, baby, and you should be compensated for the value you are adding to the economy.  This applies to interns, actors, and anyone else who take jobs “just for experience”.  A job where you don’t get paid is called a hobby. If you’re not making money – or an appropriately large amount of money considering the value you bring to the company – someone’s getting a free lunch. And you better hope it’s you in the canteen at the office cause you won’t have no dough to buy it yourself!

Don’t make excuses for yourself. You need to make sure you’re paid appropriately. No one else will do this for you.

3) Always go into a salary negotiation situation knowing what you ideal compensation should be 

If you don’t, you’ll awkwardly make non-commital verbal dance moves around the topic. And when your negotiation partner gets awkwarded out by it and gets to the point, you’ll be thinking on your feet as numbers are run past you.  If possible, and especially if you feel like your negotiating partner (boss, HR manager) won’t give you what you want just for asking and being a really nice lady, do your homework in advance and see what other people with your experience and job title are making, which can sometimes be difficult if you’re somewhat senior or have a bespoke job, so in this case, I highly recommend you…..

4) Validate your salary expectations with a trusted, more senior male colleague. Preferably one with a family or one who just doesn’t give a shit about job security. Or a female senior mentor (like me!)

Seriously, there are two profiles of characters who are in the best psychological negotiating position.  Male breadwinners (the “I’m owed the max I can negotiate because I’m providing for my family, and need to get paid for it” people) and people with a very strong BATNA (The “look, I do not need this job so if you don’t pay me what I want, I’m walking” people).  I’ll talk about BATNA later, but before I get to that – you need to talk to these people.

If you are fortunate enough to work in an organization where there are very aware and motivated leaders – both male and female – that feel that pay parity is important, talk to them.  I’m aware most workplaces likely won’t have really blatant outspoken pay parity advocates. So in lieu of these people, the profiles above are a good way to identify someone who can tell you what your job is worth in terms of salary.

5) Your network is worth more than gold

You won’t get very far in the above conversation if you don’t have senior trusted male colleagues or pay parity advocates in your professional network. Because the conversation won’t happen.  Ladies, you must take control of your professional network, get sponsors/mentors, and talk to them.  This is a whole other post – why mentors and sponsors are so important. But we’ll leave the topic here by saying that if you read item 5 and was like “I have no idea who those people would be for me,” you need to solve your network problem before you can work on your compensation problem.

6) Know your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) before you walk in

Always know at what point you would rather walk away from a situation than accept what’s on offer and be somewhat mentally prepared to act if this happens.  I say somewhat because thinking too much about it could really undermine your confidence and you may wimp out.  Also, what’s nice about raise or salary negotiations is that it’s perfectly ok to say “Look, what you’re offering me isn’t ideal. Let me think about this for a few days and get back to you.” Your gut will tell you what to do once you have time and space to consider. It’ll also give your negotiating partner some time to stew over the idea that you may walk away, which is a good thing.

Regarding the BATNA thing. If you have no other options – if you are completely dependent on your negotiating partner for your desired outcome or you think you are – you are in a terribly weak position to negotiate.  They are simply in complete control of the situation and you’ll think you’ll be forced to take what is given. Let me tell you – everyone always has a BATNA unless they are literally a slave. So the big point here is to always understand what your options are as you go into a negotiation.  It will give you confidence and give you the ability to problem solve (see next point).  If you think you have “no options”, I challenge you to dig deep and identify what you are subconsciously saying is not an option. “Quitting” – not an option? No. There are always other jobs if you put in the time to look for them.  “Interviewing for other job”? Yes, you can do this. It’s uncomfortable and weird if you are a loyal person but it’s an option.  The takeaway here is if you allow yourself to subconsciously, mentally eliminate your other options due to fear or complacency, you erode your BATNA and thus negotiating position to where you will be “forced” to take what is given.

The other thing you could do is completely bluff your negotiating partner, claiming a stronger position than you actually have.  I do not advocate this approach.  I’m a Negative Nancy and will always predict your bluff will be called and you’ll be a worse position than you started.  Just please do your homework and work your true BATNA and don’t be lazy and just bluff.  I would say though if you’re determined to bluff, do it after a lot of very careful thought. Unless you are a psychopath with no physical emotional regard to moral values or you’ve won an Oscar for playing one as a world class actor, you must make sure there is a shred of truth through your bluff or you won’t be convincing.

7) Be prepared to compromise (in a good way)

Here’s a surprise idea – negotiation is actually a problem-solving exercise. You want something (more $$$).  You’re negotiator wants something (to keep you as a happy and productive employee and derive as much value from your work as possible). The negotiation is just a process of finding something that works for everyone.  And sometimes it is not money per se. Some examples:

When I negotiated my salary for my associate directorship, I went in with a few options. I was going to be starting my MBA the next month and had some needs there which I’d have been happy to have seen met in lieu of a big raise.  And I was asking for a big raise and didn’t know what my boss was going to say.  I did the above research, etc.  I developed some of the options I’d have been happy to have accepted in lieu of the whole raise I was asking for if they were easier for my boss to accommodate. Here is what they were:

– The company  pays for sizeable chunk of my MBA

– The company provides me additional paid time off for study and covers travel costs for the program

– I just generally get more paid time off to achieve the same equivalent hourly rate

– I could get paid bonuses instead of flat salary for performance

In the end I was able to negotiate something really fair which met my expectations, made me feel valued, and worked for my boss.

8) Pair a raise increase request with as much objective self promotion and evidence as possible

I speak from personal negotiating experience here. This is probably my most powerful and effective way of getting a raise or a higher starting salary. I’ve done it many times. I coach both my male and female subordinates and mentees to do this.  Your boss often does not have the final say on your compensation or the budget used to find any pay rises.  Often you need to provide objective evidence of your value to the company.

Many people that have worked for me have not heeded this advice, and I find it frustrating .  Anyone – male or female – should be able to demonstrate why they feel they deserve a raise above and beyond what is provided or within the salary banding.  And there’s a personal bug-a-bear I have about people who don’t put in the ground work to validate their raise.  To be be completely fair,  I think all bosses should challenge their employees to demonstrate  the tangible value they’ve brought to the business if they want a raise.   I’m fiercely capitalist about this and I think it metes out fairness and keeps the conversation about compensation for performance rather than subjective privilege.  Which is better for everyone.

I have done this a number of times, and the raise justification doesn’t have to necessarily be in $ amounts, though that is the strongest and most objective measure. In one of my jobs, I was fighting for a raise that my line manager was finding difficult to accommodate. His boss didn’t want to pay out.  So what I did was tally up all of the BD work I’d done to bring in new business through contract variations with the major client I was project managing for.  This untied the boss’s boss’s purse strings and I got my raise.  This is critically important to do when asking for a raise from a line manager who does not have direct financial control over your compensation which is not uncommon.  The people making the compensation decisions won’t know you from anyone unless you articulate why your work is really adding value to the business.

Ok, that’s it. Hopefully you found this useful and provoked some thought.  If you’d like to learn more about this, the first stop is to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  It’s the definitive answer to what I see is developed society’s current challenge in feminism in the workplace.

If you don’t like to read, watch her famous TED talk.

And some more negotiation support and strategies for working women, this is a good one.

Please feel free to post links in the comments to good resources you have found to help people in negotiation situations!

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