Let’s go girls … negotiate!

Why women should negotiate. This post became the first in a trilogy on women and salary negotiation.  See the sequelsDon’t be afraid of “Noand “Cave in… or leave the cave” 

Gender pay gap

I’ve  come across a few  things in the past two weeks which have left me unfortunately, pretty sad, frustrated and frankly in a state of confused wonderment. It’s all centred around  the issue of gender divide and salary. Or to put it less esoterically – why do women earn less than men for doing similar jobs?

I’m not even talking about glass ceilings, women on boards or any other more complex and contentious  issues that are perplexing a generation of management gurus, where  there are whole biz school courses and grad theses devoted to the topic. No, all I’m talking about is basics:

Why does John earn (x) and Jane earn (x minus ) for doing comparable work when all other factors remain equal?

These might include education, qualifications, experience and age being the same


I started my early career as a Corporate HR  trainee in the steel industry when the ability to legally  advertise lower rates of pay for women was sadly a pretty recent memory. At that time trades-union officials would even ask why there was a  woman at the meeting! True! In any negotiations it was not uncommon for all the men  (large numbers) to exit the  meeting room en masse, leaving me with the metaphoric handbags, gasping in a Dickensian fug  (smoking  in buildings was legal too) to go to the gent’s bathroom. They would come back with  a resolution agreement which bore only minimal resemblance to the previous two hour discussion which I had religiously minuted on my crisp trainee notepad. I was left  bemused and bewildered. These were the days when feeling a hand on your bum in the photocopy room was par for the course and the term sexual harassment  hadn’t even been invented.

Has anything changed?

So imagine my distress when I found out that despite the passage of time (…. not saying how much) this sort of unequal treatment  seems to be ongoing. Today, according to Janez Potočnik European Commissioner for Science and Research 60% of European graduates are female, so in real terms women should indeed be a force to be reckoned with on  any job market. However,    I read a few days ago, that I am living in a country which now holds 60th placing in the  World Economic Forum  table on the  Global Gender Gap rankings  sub index, relating to economic participation and job opportunity.

Marcus Buckingham in the Huffington Post  tells us that it is the failure of women to actually step up and negotiate which is at the root of the problem: “according to a study at G.E., men return to the negotiating table on average six times, while women average between zero and two.”  Cumulatively over a career he estimates that this shortfall could mean as much as  $0.5m loss of earnings in a female employee’s bank account.

In their book  Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever give some further worrying statistics about the context and long-term economic  implications of this passivity.

In Belgium, Isabella Lenarduzzi — founded  Jump,  an initiative to support women in the workplace in Belgium, which has achieved incredible success in providing a secure environment for women to pursue personal development.

Negotiation is a learned skill

But despite these efforts, unfortunately, as a recruiter I come across this discrepancy all the time with monotonous and disheartening regularity. I do believe that negotiation is a skill that can be learned and as a coach I have a segment  in my programme covering salary negotiation,   but  as divorce rates rise and single parenthood households are also increasing, the need for women to work rapidly towards economic parity  is more significant than ever before.

 So ladies, consider this:

  • If a person cannot successfully negotiate for themselves it can bring into doubt their ability to effectively negotiate for their company.
  • Ineffective or inconsistent negotiation practises leads to general vulnerability- not just in the work place .
  • To be consistently paid less than the market rate  can indicate a lack of  lack of self worth  – as above,  leads to vulnerability.
  • Good fair negotiators are respected. Self respect fosters confidence
  • Despite what you think , there should be nothing you eventually can’t walk away from.

So what do you have to do to get to this happy place?:

  • Understand and be able to articulate all your areas of added value. This enhances self respect and confidence and increases your expectations, because you now believe in yourself.
  • Salary research  –  be aware of your own market place and know your value in it. Calculate any shortfall. Facts talk!
  • Don’t take any discussions personally –  get into business neutral.  Negotiation is only a process, nothing else.
  • Build a business case
  • Look at fringe benefits as well as financial incentives. Benefits can eventually have a high monetary value and also play an important role in work/life balance issues. There is a caveat in the sense that  generally benefits do not count toward pensionable earnings if there is a  scheme. Factor this in fully.
  • Evaluate any rejection neutrally  – the question should be not be ” do you want to stay in this job?” – but  “when would be a good time to leave? My employer doesn’t value me”.

If you discover that you are paid below the market rate , need to negotiate a salary to start a new job only to  find yourself struggling with that process you have two options only: find yourself a career coach a.s.a.p.  or  find yourself another employer.

If you are stuck in your career  – get in touch now!

34 thoughts on “Let’s go girls … negotiate!

  1. Susan Mazza

    Excellent advice – if we want parity we have to take a stand for it. I have been joking lately that men may not ask for directions, but they do ask for what they want. Women seem to be less likely to ask for what they really want and take a stand for their value.

  2. Colin Lewis

    Once again Dorothy a highly relevant post. Learning how to negotiate is essential. I had former ‘male’ colleagues who always came out of interviews commenting gosh ‘she’s pushy’ – tad unfair to say the least but I heard it many times. At major corps I advised there was always ‘levels of pay’ if you were a D4 Director. A8, A7 whatever you got the same salary and perks regardless of gender. Now the question comes who filled those senior roles.

    Had to laugh at your photocopier jibe – had that happen to me on many occassions too – so it did go both ways!!!

    Tom Peters has good content on his site about women in business and is a HUGE advocate of equal pay…in fact he always stretches it with businesses with women are better performers…


  3. Ellen Brown

    You make some great points, Dorothy! I find a lot of women who have trouble with negotiating. And I loved Colin’s comment about his colleague who thought that women who DO negotiate are “pushy.”

    I think it’s great that you include a segment in your program around negotiating salaries, because it’s something we all could stand to learn more about and become more comfortable with.


    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Ellen – negotiating is a skill which can be learned and is useful in all walks of life. Women seem to struggle with this in the area of salaries to their own long term detriment. Hopefully this balance will shift.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Susan – thanks you for your comments. Barbara’s booklet is excellent with comprehensive coverage of the issue. I hope to give it wider circulation! With all the research I did on this topic – there should be a demand!.

  4. Rebel Brown

    What a great post Dorothy!

    I started my career selling mainframes and systems against IBM in the early 1980s. I was the ONLY woman in the game for some of my early employers – and I KNOW I made a lot less than the male counterparts. I was just happy to have the opportunity!

    Since that beginning – I’ve watched as my clients easily pay male consultants big dollars, and then quibble with me over my rates. I’ve learned to stick to my guns, but I also know that I discount more heavily up front, work more hours for the same retainers and still give too much away.

    My male counterparts wouldn’t even think of doing that. They charge top dollar, often deliver based on 8-5hours only and think nothing about it drawing their lines.

    In one situation, I was making X a month for leading a new client into a whole new market. I was driving product, marketing, sales and a whole corporate relaunch. That’s some pretty Heavy Lifting. A male consultant came in to do some financial reconciliations. The company’s books were pretty nasty so it was important too. Imagine my surprise when I found he was making that sames X – each week! How unfair. Yes, he added value – but my work was JUST as valuable.

    But it was, and is, a boys club in this particular field – so his value was viewed through a different lens.

    I agree that negotiation is part of the solution. But there’s another part – and that’s a change in culture. My generation was the first to have women in substantive business roles. We were the ground breakers – and we fought hard. But the men of our generation were trained to value us on a different scale. We were going to leave to be wives and mothers, to pursue other lives. Why invest too much in us?

    IMHO – until our generation moves on and the next generation is in decision making roles – we’ll see some of the same behaviors simply due to status quo cultural beliefs. I DO believe that the next generation is so much more gender neutral. PROGRESS!

    It’s not fair, but I think it’s real. And yes, I’m learning to say NO and stick to my guns ever more strongly these days!

    THANKS for the GREAT post!


    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Reb – thank you for posting your experiences. A great story. When I started working female graduates represented a very small percentage of the graduate population. We had no role models for ourselves, but now we ARE the role models ! So I was surprised and shocked that despite the increased number of female graduates, these significant salary discrepancies still exist. Thank you for joining me to raise awareness on this issue and hopefully as coaches we can make a difference.

  5. Wally Bock

    There is no doubt in my mind that some of the inequality in compensation for similar contribution between men and women is caused by women not negotiating as well as they might. And, certainly, negotiation is a learned skill. And, equally certainly, there are women who are excellent negotiators, for themselves and for others.

    So the issue seems to be that women are either not learning the skills or not using them in salary negotiations. I think some of that has to do with the way women and men emerge from young adulthood.

    Men in general seem more vertically oriented. “Winning” is important. Women in general seem more horizontally oriented. Developing/maintaining good relationships is important.

    If that’s right, then part of the problem will be getting a number of women to abandon things that serve them well in most other parts of life and to do so for the limited purpose and time of salary negotiation. I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope of that happening.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Wally yet another insightful observation thank you and one I have to think about. I may research that thought and perhaps even do a survey. Long term economic imperatives might encourge women to approach salary negotiation differently and overcome the hurdle of being seen to be “pushy” as Colin mentioned , simply to protect their financial viability. Does that mean by doing so they will sacrifice other goals ? It shouldn’t and I hope not. Will get back to you!

  6. Jim Hopkinson

    Great article Dorothy. I’ve seen the same exact thing here in New York City, and the sad truth is, for both men and women, it seems no one teaches you this stuff… not your university, not your parents, and most friends don’t talk about money.

    I did a ton of research on it and was able to do well myself, and now I’m helping out others.


  7. Wally Bock

    Sorry that I wasn’t as clear as I hoped. I’m not suggesting that women do or should abandon their goals in order to negotiate better. I’m attempting to suggest that women generally are more likely to use behaviors that are more oriented toward maintaining relationships than they are toward winning individual encounters. For most of life and career, those behaviors serve them well. But when in comes to negotiating, a stronger emphasis on winning might make them more effective. That suggests to me that, to negotiate better, many women will need to abandon habitual success behaviors for the duration of the negotiation. If I keep trying to express this, I’ll probably get it right.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Wally – going to think about that too. I don’t think successful negotiation and relationship building are mutually exclusive. But I tend to favour a win/win process, unless completely unavoidable. Will get back to you!

  8. Wally Bock

    Thanks for helping me sharpen this, Dorothy. You response tells me that I’m not making the point I want to make. So, I’ll go away and ponder how to phrase it more accurately and get back to you, as well.

  9. Susan Mazza

    You have started a great conversation here Dorothy. Thanks for nudging me to come back and engage.

    I’ve been thinking about the point Wally made that in the cases where “women would need to abandon habitual success behaviors for the duration of the negotiation” it is not likely to happen. I think that may be true to the extent that women actually believe that to win in a salary negotiation they would have to sacrifice their relationships or go against some other deeply held belief that would amount to a breach of their integrity. It seems to me this is the point Wally is making and I think there is a lot of truth to it.

    The ultimate barrier to our effectiveness in most things is often less about skills we can learn, but rather about the beliefs we are unwilling to examine and/or unable to see as being counter to our success.

    I’ll suggest, however, that effective negotiation is not about winning at it’s core, but rather about relationship. In fact I believe relationship skills pay off tremendously in any kind of negotiations because they lead to the best kind of outcome (IMHO) – a win-win. I don’t think women have to abandon the ways they naturally work and relate to be successful in negotiation. I do believe we must first do some work on the most fundamental relationship of all though – the one we have with ourselves.

    Your bullet points provide some insight to those limiting beliefs. They also provide some great advice on how to go about negotiating from a position of strength. Yet none of it matters if we cannot take a strong stand for our own value to begin with.

    It is only when more women start taking that stand that we will break through the cultural barriers Rebel points out that persist despite the progress that has been made. I often say change happens one conversation at a time. Every time we take a stand for ourselves it matters both now, and as Rebel reminds us, for future generations.

  10. Dorothy Dalton

    Susan thank you for such great points. My thoughts almost require a separate post but I’ll keep this as brief as I can!

    I agree self insight in this process is key and helps our understanding of any value that we can add. But I do believe that if it is not instinctive, it can be learned, so that process is the core of my own career coaching programme.

    What I feel is that women quite often don’t understand the following:

    – negotiation is an integral part of our daily lives – we do it all the time without a second thought with partners, kids, teachers, trades people etc. Salary negotiation is no different in terms of the process. We just need to understand that we are not doing anything different. We need to normalise and neutralise it.
    – The word ” No” is actually our friend. It is the beginning, not the end of any dialogue and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.
    – “No” introduces us to another good friend “why?” Tell any 5 year old “no” and what do they always ask ” why?” It opens up all sorts of avenues to introduce our USPs, added value and achievements ( elevator sound bites!)
    – the final buddy in this trio is silence – women are not great at this and it’s a good negotiation tool. We are too prepared to rush in to fill the gap to make things more comfortable ( empathy,) and in so doing lose ground.

    I wondered in all this rumination, if at the bottom of it all, the real fear is the possible need that we might have to vote with our feet. Is it that jump into the unknown that we know we should take, but don’t, that holds us back?

    Just throwing that one out there!

  11. Wally Bock

    Susan’s post helped me see another angle on this. So here’s another try, hopefully, more effective to get into words what I have in my head.

    There are two kinds of people with whom you negotiate. Some are collaborators, where you and they have essentially the same goals and values. You do this in your family, in your workgroup and a variety of places.

    For most of those situations, which are most of the negotiating situations, being collaborative and making the maintenance of a good relationship part of your negotiating style works well. The more commonly male choice, of “winning” every encounter is dysfunctional.

    But in an adversarial situation that same set of behaviors can only work if the person across the table puts the same value on relationship. But if you bring your “relationship-valuing” behavior to the table when the other person is there to win, you put yourself at a disadvantage.

    That’s exactly what happens in many initial salary package negotiations. The person across the table sees their job as acquiring the best people for the lowest price. If you want to make sure you build the relationship, you’re trusting the fox not to eat your chickens.

    To come out OK, you have to 1) recognize the situation and 2) adjust your negotiating behavior. Otherwise you’re not going to get the salary you might get otherwise.

  12. Dorothy Dalton

    Wally I agree. There comes a point when the intensity in salary negotation can crank up and women should be prepared to handle that but they can be equipped to deal with that situation by just some research.

    That’s why being prepared to walk is a factor. If a hiring companies lose you, they have to start the process again or go to candidate number 2 who maybe less effective , all of which has a negative impact on revenue. I saw a Fortune 500 company do this in a search recently and they lost a whole year, had to run eventually 2 searches and damaged their reputation in the market place .

    Hiring companies are misguided if they try to get the best people as cheaply as they can. All parties should feel comfortable otherwise they are setting themselves up for future problems. If they have done their market research properly they should have a good idea of salary levels.

    I think the real problem is for existing employees who have been underpaid ( under valued/exploited?) over a long period who are trying to change that situation.

    I will have to think about that one – that’s why I wondered if the root fear is of walking away and the unknown. Risk taking – basic, primal “what’s going on outside the cave” sort of stuff. In a new job situation you have a job offer- so you can get another one. That’s a confidence builder right there. An existing situation can be more complex I think.

    Any psychologists have a veiw on that?

  13. timdouglashr

    Hi Dorothy, great blog. Sex discrimination is as abhorrent as prejudice based on race, religion or any other factor that’s irrelevant to job performance. And it deserves a high priority because there are more victims and they are of every race and religion.

    I question whether the issue of equality between the sexes has it’s origins in the same biological and historical roots as all forms of discrimination, and it goes back to the caves. I am no anthropologist, but gender roles seemed to emanate from a pre-historic life style. Those sterotypical roles survive today and manifest as sex discrimination. In the same way, tribalism was a necessary response to external threats. Those behaviours survive today as prejudice based on race, colour, ethnicity, religion … in gangs and in football they’re even based on which city (or which part of the city) you come from.

    In respect of gender equality, whilst we know our circumstances as humans have changed and those pre-historic, stereotypical roles are no longer necessary for our survival or happiness. Yet the evidence suggests we still conform to those sterotypes, none the less.

    What may happen over time is that we are educated, trained and socialised to either reinforce those traits or to ignore them. In medieval times it was more useful to reinforce them. Today the preference is to eschew them in favour of equality. But we have to use intellect to overcome emotion, here. We have to rationalise that it MUST be equitable to treat people according to their skills and abilities, rather than just according to their gender. The more exposed we are to that approach being normal, the easier it is to follow it consistently.

    However when the chips are down, maybe we revert to type. A mother may still be more risk averse in challenging her boss, because of the adverse impact on her family that could result. This risk is exacerbated in the case of a single mother. In our conversation Dorothy challenged me about whether the father doesn’t also feel protective towards his family. Well of course he does, on a rational level he wouldn’t say anything else, and especially in the rarer example of a single father. But in a 2-parent family it is still usually the man who takes greater risks in challenging his boss, in moving jobs to improve career chances, than the woman. And what if the woman challenged a male boss in negotiation? Maybe she has the skills to do so, and even uses them with clients & competitors in a business context, but sees a higher risk that a male boss will react badly.

    Society still reinforces those stereotypes in so many ways. There are still only very rare examples of a couple deciding that the man should stay at home to raise the children. It produces some raised eyebrows all around. We can RATIONALISE it economically, if the woman has better earning potential. But it would seem even odder to many people, of both sexes, if they said their reason was that they thought the father would make a better carer. And when a relationship ends it is usually accepted that the mother will be the full-time carer of the children.

    There’s another problem in this equation, though. For inequalities to be as endemic as they are, there has to be an effective conspiracy between all the powerful parties involved – individual line boss has to be backed up by organisational culture, which is supported by governmental abrogation. But it still starts with the individual boss, deciding who to hire and how much to pay.

    I think I’ve been trying to make the central point that, as individuals, we need to use our brain to exert balanced judgement, to overcome a maybe hard-wired human propensity to stereotype. Would more managers make better decisions about who to employ, how much to pay, who to promote, etc, if they had a better grasp of what good performance looks like, and how to assess it objectively? If they have sound processes and objective data, they can choose to exert rationality into making a balanced judgement, thereby eliminating their innate bias. If they don’t have the process or the data, you’re more likely to end up with a decision based on million years old prejudice.

    So I don’t say ‘Come on girls, negotiate’, for the sad reality is women are still vulnerable to a male-dominated climate and for every one that wins a pay rise, another one may be quietly deselected as a trouble-maker in the next reorganisation. I say ‘Come on HR, put the processes in place and monitor line managers’ decisions more effectively. You are in pole position here, you are absolutely on the spot for how managers make these decisions and whether they are held accountable for them being fair and objective. You have the tools to do it, and most of you are female!’

  14. Dorothy Dalton

    Tim thank you for such perceptive insights – you probably saw that I was heading towards the risk/cave thought myself. But you have thrown a new dimension into the mix. The role of HR. Any other thoughts anyone?

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  16. Anne Perschel

    Dorothy – Susan Mazza introduced me to you blog and I’m glad she did. Great discussion, and I think your advice on how to negotiate will help many and therefore all women as we pay it forward – pardon the pun. Several additional comments to broaden the conversation.

    A woman CEO recently reported to me that in her entire career many men and NO WOMEN had ever asked her for a raise. This is stellar.

    One underlying factor may be that in addition to need to know the “how” of negotiating women sometimes assume they are being offered a fair salary, just as they often assume that if they do good work it will be noticed and they will receive just rewards. As women we need to help each other understand the rules of the game rather than have each one of us learn on our own. Fairness is not necessarily the rule.

    Wally’s point about the assumptions of the other party are also critical. When someone is out to “win” the negotiation, the person who is negotiating based on building a relationship will lost on both counts – no $ and a relationship based on being taken advantage of.

    On a personal note: When I left teaching in my 20s & landed my first corporate job I was so overjoyed at the increase over what I made as a teacher that it never occurred to me to ask for more. That one move probably accumulated to $20-30K in lost opportunity over the course of ten years in that company.

    Finally – my mantra, the Rule of 3. In order for the voice of women to effect changes in the culture and the rules of the game we need 3 women on each top leadership team. So let’s do it now.

    Thanks again –
    Anne Perschel
    Leadership and Business Psychologist
    Unstoppable force for women as leaders

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Anne thanks for adding even further depth to the discussion. So many facets to this topic – it’s complex. It’s about raising awareness and being role models. Thanks for the ” pay” forward!

  17. Sharon Eden

    Stimulating and interest arousing blog, Dorothy. To understand how to negotiate as men to win can only be a bonus and an ‘add-on’ skill rather than detract or erase women’s ability for negotiation based on relationship. The trick is to move from the one to the other when appropriate. There’s a great need for developing those skills… any training in the pipeline Dorothy?

  18. Dorothy Dalton

    Thanks Sharon for your comments. Rightly or wrongly I am a great believer in women striving for the same goals and outcomes as men, but not necessarily emulating their methods.

    The response has been amazing online and off -so I think some sort of training/coaching workshop might well be a spinoff. Maybe we should go global….?

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  22. Anne Egros

    Great tips.
    I agree with you that if you do not ask what you really want or develop your negotiation skills, you start feeling weak then disempowered, often frustrated and resentful that lead to a victim attitude of being taken advantage of. All that can sabotage your self-esteem and your chance of success in all aspects of your life. Success makes you feel and look more attractive, so you get more opportunities.

  23. J. Paige Freeland

    Hi Dorothy,

    I too have some fairly strong feelings about this. Some years ago, I was doing the work of my job and my counterpart’s (unfilled position). Additionally, I’d inherited a communications role for my company. This was the case for over a year, when my male counter-part was hired. MUCH to my dismay I learned that he was being paid $10,000 more per year than me even though he was younger, more inexperienced and was doing half of what I had been for over a year.

    This inequality has plagued me my whole career. There have been other times where I learned someone else was making much more than I.

    While I find myself greatly upset I also know I haven’t had the negotiating skills necessary to get myself top dollar / what I’m worth. I also have a difficult time taking the emotion out of the equation….especially since I’m jaded by past experience in this arena.

    What do you suggest? How do I learn this? I’m not convinced simply reading a book about it will help, but if you know of one you greatly believe in, I would give it a try.


    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Paige – thanks for your comment! Don’t be worried you are not alone in this. Women generally step up to the negotiating table 6 times less than their male counter parts in a working career. This post is part of a trilogy – “Don’t be afraid of no ” and Cave in .. or leave the cave” where you’ll find very pratical tips on what to do. It just takes the 3 Ps – Preparation, Practise and Performance. I’ve had lots of great feedback.

      You probably negotiate all the time and don’t realise it. It’s just like the salary expectation question it’s just a business process and not tied to your overall self worth. You need to know your market value, understand the metrics of what you do and contribute and neutralsie the emotion in the process.

      The tough part is knowing when to leave if you can. You are now a listed LinkedIn ” Influencer” who has sparked a global debate! Capitalise on that! Try reading Women Don’t Ask: Salary and Gender Divide referenced in my post by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

      Good luck – don’t give up!

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