According to recent research, women earn 82 cents for every $1 men earn when comparing women to men—a stat that is unchanged from 2021.
As part of closing the wage gap and increasing our income, we can negotiate to get paid what we as individuals deserve. Whether you are working to remedy a pay discrepancy or are just ready for your next raise, here’s how to negotiate your compensation.
First and foremost, what is a negotiation? It’s just asking for what you want. You might not realize it, but you’re negotiating all day, every day. When you and a friend decide which restaurant to go to, that’s a negotiation. When you later decide which app to share, that’s a negotiation, too. We can use these everyday low-stakes negotiations as an opportunity to practice asking for what we want.
You might have noticed that it’s so much easier to negotiate and vouch for your friends than for yourself. This is something we can work to unlearn, but even after working on this for years, I still feel it. What’s helped me is to realize that I am negotiating on behalf of women everywhere. When you negotiate your compensation, you are paving the way for other women to do the same, you are normalizing negotiating, you are gaining experience you can share with others, and you are doing your part to close the pay gap. That’s powerful.
Women who negotiate (and studies show women are actually negotiating as much as men) can be viewed as unlikeable and are more likely than men to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy.” This is the double bind. For women of color, this translates into the angry Black woman and fiery Latina stereotypes.
Women are told to negotiate, but when we do, there are negative long-term career implications. As a way to overcome the double bind, experts recommend that women negotiate communally, using words like “we” and “us” and framing your “ask” in a way that shows it’s better for the team and company as a whole. Yes, I’m annoyed even writing this, but this is the world in which we’re negotiating.
As a way to give companies the benefit of the doubt and hold them accountable, Claire Wasserman, the founder and author of Ladies Get Paid, is a big fan of saying, “I know you’re a company that pays people fairly. I know you’re a company that values gender and racial equity, so I’m sure we can come to a conclusion that works for everyone.” And know that you’re making the company better by asking them to pay you fairly. If you’re interviewing at a new company, you can say this without knowing it’s true (because how can you know?), but if you work there, you’ll want to tailor the statement to be reflective of the reality at the company.
Let’s be clear—your market rate is not the same as your worth. I think this idea that what we earn is what we’re worth is one of the reasons talking about what we earn feels so uncomfortable. Our market rate is just the going rate for the type of work we do. That’s it. And it typically comes in the form of a pay range (also called a pay band).
How do you find your market rate? Start by talking to friends and colleagues (especially white men) about what they earn. You can acknowledge the awkwardness and share how important pay transparency is for equal pay. Remember, you are giving them an opportunity to be an ally. You can also talk with people who used to work in your role. This can feel a bit less daunting, as they aren’t sharing their current salary information.
For more salary info, call up recruiters in your industry (they have all the insider pay info!) and do some online research. The more specific you can get about your role, location (it matters!), and level of seniority, the more accurate the range will be.
The last thing you want to do is take a new job or stay in a job where you’re being underpaid, only to resent the role and feel angry. Go into the negotiation with optimistic expectations but also know what you are not willing to accept.
Take time to think this through. Know the facts and compensation range the role warrants and also know yourself and your specific experience. Imagine yourself working in the job a month or six months down the line. What compensation will have you feeling valued in the role?
There is a lot of nuance to this. If you are pivoting careers, you might be excited to switch roles and know that you will accept lower pay as you gain experience in a new industry. Just know that women generally tend to undervalue their experience and expertise, which might apply more to the new role than you think.
One of the most important things to bring into a salary negotiation is a list of your successes and accomplishments. You want to be able to share the value you’ve brought to the company (or previous companies) and, in some cases, show how you’ve already stepped into the position to which you want to be promoted.
When you have a big success at work, you might think you’ll never forget it, but over time, it’s hard to recall all the things you’ve done. You might even draw a blank: “What have I even been spending my time doing these last few months?” Keep a running log of your successes,
big and small, so you can pinpoint projects where you’ve had an impact. When possible, use measurable data like a percentage increase in revenue, a decrease in expenses, how many participants were involved, and the project’s timeline. You can also add these successes to your LinkedIn profile, CV, or resume.
Lauren Smith Brody, gender equity advocate and author of The Fifth Trimester, talked about the very valuable yet overlooked work that women take on more often than men, like informally mentoring a colleague, leading an employee resource group (ERG), or helping to train someone. Don’t forget to include any additional unpaid work you do. Make it part of your routine to add a win or two to your list of successes each week. Not only will this serve as a great resource, it’s also a nice confidence boost!
You know that amazing success log you started? It’s time to share it with people (specifically, your colleagues). If you aren’t used to sharing your successes, it can feel uncomfortable at first, but I promise it gets easier—and over time your boss will come to expect it. Pop into their office this week (in person or on Zoom) and share a success. You can update them on a project that’s going well or share an exciting result you and your team achieved. Then build the habit of doing it at least once per month or quarterly, depending on the relationship.
If you want a promotion, your manager should know about it. You can even ask specifically what it would take to make it happen. If during your research you found out you are being paid less than your male colleagues or below market rate, bring that up. Given all the publicity and work being done around equal pay, it can work really well to call the issue out directly. “In my research it has come to my attention that I’m being paid less than my peers for my role (or even my male peers).”
Lauren encourages everyone, before going into even the simplest negotiation, to understand that closing the wage gap and promoting and retaining women is the best thing for everyone, including the economy. A recent study showed that if there were equal representation in the workforce, the U.S. GDP would go up by 5 percent. Read an article like that right before any negotiation and you’ll go in thinking, “Yes, we deserve this!” Now that’s a pump-up.
Claire encourages us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone but not so much that we’ve twisted ourselves into a pretzel to become someone else. “You still have to be you.”
When I hear the word “no” in a negotiation, I can feel very shut down. But the word “no” is actually a sign to continue the conversation.
If your boss can’t give you a raise at this time, try to understand why. By getting curious rather than shutting down, you might find helpful pieces of information that you can use to support your manager in making your case.
This article is an excerpt from Financial Adulting, Everything You Need to be a Financially Confident and Conscious Adult by Ashley Feinstein Gerstley.