Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lessons for girls: If you don't ask, you don't get

I’ve been prompted to add my own contribution to the Lessons for Girls meme kicked off by Historiann by some new research on gender and pay (in)equity. The research on the technology sector shows that even in this relatively new industry, which you might expect to be free of the shackles of historically embedded gender inequities, women still earn on average $5,000 less than men in jobs where in all other respects (skills, experience, qualifications) they are on an equal footing.

Why is this? One reason is that in a competitive world, if you don’t ask for something – or even vociferously demand it – you’re not going to get it. And it seems that too many women simply don’t ask.

AbsoluteIT director Grant Burley says the extent of the difference between the earning power of men and women – approximately $5,000 – was a surprise. He puts it down to the fact women don’t always negotiate as aggressively as men when they’re offered jobs.
“As a recruitment firm, we see evidence of that – when job offers are made, there’s less bargaining from female candidates”.

When we are less assertive than men in our pay negotiations, it may only make a small initial difference between what we earn and what our male colleagues earn. But that small difference gets magnified over time when annual raises or bonuses are based on a percentage of base salary. Dr Crazy recently ran some numbers for academia which showed how big the gap in salaries can become over the long term when women don’t hold out for what they want (and deserve) early in their careers.

So why don’t we women put more monetary value on what we bring to the workplace? As a girl, I was brought up to take what I was given without complaint, so when I started working, I believed that asking for more made me ungrateful and greedy. I thought that if I displayed a forthright interest in money, it would be seen as a sign of flawed character and might even prompt my potential employer to withdraw their offer in distaste. It was many years before I got past the unspoken conviction that bargaining for higher pay was somehow classless and, dare I say it, ‘unladylike’. I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

When you get that job offer, don’t immediately say yes. Don’t take the first offer on the table out of unwarranted gratitude for even being considered for the role. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking, ‘they really want me, but they’ve said they can’t afford to offer me more’. You are always worth more than their first offer and they expect you to negotiate. If you had a Y chromosome, you’d bargain as a matter of course. Consider your many talents, your experience, the qualifications you worked so hard to attain. And then ASK FOR MORE. Believe me, you would if you were a man. And if you don’t, nobody is going to just up and give it to you.

Money is not inherently dirty and it is not a character flaw in women to want more of it (within reason – I’m not saying we should start channelling Gordon Gekko). Asking to be properly remunerated for what you do doesn’t make you arrogant or selfish or greedy. Dealing fairly but firmly in pay negotiations does not make you an aggressive bitch. It makes you smart.

Updated: This post sparked some lively discussion over at Historiann and at The Chronicle of Higher Education - check out the comment threads.

Oh, and in case anyone thinks I believe that all it takes to close the pay gap is for women to get better at salary negotiation, here's a refresher on pay equity and patriarchal equilibrium.


Digger said...

Thanks for the post, Bavardess. When I got the job I have now, I didn't negotiate; it was more than I was previously making, and I REALLY REALLY wanted it.

That was silly of me for a bunch of reasons, including the compounding raises that Dr. Crazy spells out. It isn't good for my self-esteem, it's not great for my workplace satisfaction, and dammit, but it made me seem desperate for the job. Which I kinda was. But DAMN, never let the other side know! The other key negotiating strategy I violated was, "The first one to name a price is at a disadvantage." Dang it, I'd do it differently now!

Janice said...

This is a really good post. When I took the job that I have, the dean (another woman) was frank with me. I work in a unionized faculty. Since I was ABD with dissertation ready to defend, the top amount they could offer me was X and that was what my offer was with the understanding that as soon as I defended in the fall, I would receive an automatic increment increase as well as a bump up to the next base.

But, so maybe you can't negotiate much on the starting salary, but you can negotiate other items that will affect you financially. Professional allowance. Start-up funds. Research release money. Important library acquisitions.

Make sure to also keep track of other ways you can increase your salary because your peers are doing the same. Apply for merit pay increases when you've got a new publication or other milestone. If you get another job possibility, share that with your own dean if that gives you additional leverage. Get those releases for extra duties (goodness knows that I've missed the boat here, time and again!).

And it's never too late to say "Hey, you know what? I think I'm worth more than that!"

Bavardess said...

Janice - you make some great points about other ways to negotiate that are career-enhancing but not necessarily about straight salary/wages. Depending on the organisation/institution, they can also be easier for an employer to swing (such as by taking them out of a different budget).
Digger - I, too, have been in the situation where I just took the first thing offered because I really wanted the job. A mistake that with age and experience, I hope I wouldn't make again, although that can be easier said than done in an economic climate such as we're experiencing at the moment.