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Conventional wisdom says women don’t negotiate as much as men do.
Last year, on average, U.S. women earned 85 percent of what men did.
In 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity launched Equal Pay Day to bring attention to the wage gap. Equal Pay Day always falls on a Tuesday in April; this year, it’s April 2. The date symbolizes how far into the year women need to work to earn approximately what men earned the previous year. Around this time, women are encouraged to negotiate to close the gap; to “lean in.”
In the past couple of years, however, the assumption that women aren’t asking for better salaries has been challenged. Studies have shown that women do ask for more money; they just don’t get it at the same rates as men do.
That’s disheartening. But, as Otegha Uwagba, who writes about women and money, told The Lily, that doesn’t mean women should stop asking. Far from it. She says it’s essential that women keep urging managers to compensate them fairly.
Whether you’re starting your first job or reentering the workforce after a long break, the salary talk can be difficult. To better prepare you, we asked for advice in seven different scenarios from the following three salary negotiation pros:
Devon Smiley: My first piece of advice is to take a step back and assess if there may be reasons for that pay gap — a few more years of experience, a different educational background, stronger performance metrics. If so, those differences can be a valuable road map for you in determining how you can position yourself for a higher salary.
If there are no appreciable differences, time to ask for parity.
My best advice is to not directly reference that Bob or Mary in the next cubicle is getting a certain amount during the conversation with your manager. Your salary is ultimately based on your performance and the value you’re adding to the firm — not, “So-and-so is earning $70,000, so I should as well.”
Instead, try: “Based on my contributions and performance, as well as the salary levels of similar roles, I’m requesting an increase of $X.”
As the conversation continues, you’ll be presenting examples of your wins and contributions to support your request. If your employer insists on a salary that’s lower than what your research has indicated, ask for specific feedback on why — perhaps there are skills you can develop or metrics you can hit to secure that uplift.
Francesca Gino: You may be fully aware of all the work you have done. But others around you, including those with the power of promoting you, may not have paid such close attention. So go talk to them. People are more open to our arguments when we take the time to explain them and justify our requests. Our boss may not even know we care about being promoted: It is on us to let others know what we care about and why, what our interests are.
And when we approach those conversations, we don’t have to think of them as a fight or as awkward. We should think of them as an opportunity to improve others’ understanding of a situation. As long as our approach is a respectful one, others will appreciate having the opportunity to learn about what we’ve been doing.
Francesca Gino: Prepare, prepare, prepare. Think about your alternatives: What is it you are going to do if you do not take this job? We always have alternatives; they may be bad, but we always have them. It is important to be clear on what they are before entering negotiations, because they influence what our strategy should be.
In general, though, we should make negotiations richer. Salary is just one component. Ask yourself: What else do you care about? The role? The career progression? Benefits? Location? Colleagues? Flexibility? Don’t turn a rich negotiation into one that is focused on only one issue. When the negotiation is about multiple issues, we can use differences in preferences to find value in creating deals.
Otegha Uwagba: When the no happens, dig into why and what you need to do. If you put together your case, listed all your achievements, and you still get a no, bear in mind that some situations are out of your control. Think: Okay, so what do I have to do, and by when, in order for me to get this pay raise? Set a concrete timeline. Make sure your boss gives you concrete and realistically timed targets, and measurable [targets] as well. Once you’ve left, follow up on email about what you and your boss discussed to make sure you have it in writing. Outline the things you’re going to do, reiterate that you two agreed to review the situation at XY date, and then follow up on that date. It becomes harder to give you the runaround that way.
Devon Smiley: Ahead of stepping into salary negotiations, I recommend spending time going back through your pre-kid experience and mining it for tangible examples of how you brought value to the organizations you worked in. If you have copies of previous performance reviews, those are a great way to revisit what your accomplishments were.
Current market information on salaries for similar roles will be a big help in establishing the ballpark range you’ll seek to achieve — and speaking with people in your network who have been in the workforce will help you learn about specific hot topics in the industry, or key capabilities you can emphasize during salary negotiations. Highlighting that not only are you bringing your past experience and value to the new role, but that you’ve maintained your skill sets to keep up with changes in the business world, will help you secure a competitive salary.
Devon Smiley: Make it tangible. When it comes time for salary reviews and negotiations, you’re more likely to get the result you’re looking for when you can clearly demonstrate the value you’ve brought to the organization. Keep a file to store the details of your wins and accomplishments. These can be emails from management thanking you for great results, the return on investment from your latest project or the number of days you shaved off a process. Linking your work to facts, figures and documented recognition helps you support the salary you’re asking for.
One aspect of negotiating a raise that gets overlooked is the importance of networking and building profile outside of your direct line of management. Often, salary adjustment budgets are discussed by teams at the executive level, with each manager putting forward their recommendations for their staff. If the leaders around that table know you — and your great work — there’s likely to be less pushback or friction in having your raise approved.
Otegha Uwagba: When you’re switching career paths, it’s important to leverage your past experience. Say you have commercial experience as a corporate lawyer or as a banker, and now you’re moving to a sector where there’s a real dearth of people who have commercial experience. You should use that as an example of why your skills are more rarefied and why you should be paid more.
In order to figure out the benchmarks for the field you’re going into, have a look online at a site like Glassdoor as a very preliminary starting point. Next, start talking to other people in jobs similar to the ones you’re applying to. Instead of asking other people what they earn, you could ask: “Hey, I’m thinking of taking a job at X company, and they’ve offered me a salary range of Y, do you think that sounds fair?” People are often much more willing to talk about it in those sorts of terms as opposed to revealing their own salaries off the cuff. It’s also helpful to talk to people that make hiring decisions in your new field, such as people in human resources, to get a second opinion.
Negotiation is useful, but it isn’t the solution to the gender wage gap. The issue is far more complex — and women aren’t on the hook to fix it. As Uwagba wrote in The Cut, “I hate the idea of putting the onus on women to overcome the gender pay gap, or somehow implying that they are the ones at fault.”
But, as she told The Lily, “the alternative is to not ask, and not be compensated fairly for your work.”