Negotiating is expected

If you're like most people, and especially most women, no one ever taught you anything about how to negotiate your salary, benefits, or raises. There's a good chance you don't even know that negotiation is an option. In either case, the idea of asking for more than a company initially offered probably gives you the cold sweats. You think things like, "Who am I to ask more?" and "They'll get mad at me if I try to negotiate" and "I don't want to be mercenary - after all, I'm getting paid more than my mother ever made." In reality, though, unless your wages are set by law, the company that just made you an offer almost always expects you to negotiate. In some cases, especially if negotiation is part of your job, they will think less of you if you don't negotiate.

This HOWTO will begin with reasons why people, especially women, don't negotiate their compensation or do so badly. We'll explain why negotiation is important, healthy, and actually a moral obligation for women who believe in the equality of men and women. Then we will talk about particular techniques that are useful for negotiating your salary and benefits.

People don't negotiate their salaries for reasons both obvious and subtle, many having to do with guilt, self-confidence, and self-worth. Women are especially prone to personality traits that hurt them when it comes to being fairly compensated for the work they do. In this section, we'll review common reasons why people don't negotiate their salaries.

What, I can negotiate my salary?

Many people go through their entire careers without ever negotiating their compensation even once - because they don't know they can, or should. Otherwise brilliant and competent people can be completely ignorant about this topic. I personally did not negotiate the first two job offers I accepted. I thought that all the negotiation I could do was to choose the best offer among those I received, if I was lucky enough to get more than one.

The truth is that unless your wages are completely determined by law or a mathematical formula of some sort, there is room for variation, both in the initial offer and the final offer. Whether these offers end up on the high or low end of the range of possibility depends in large part on your negotiating skills, from how you present yourself initially to how you respond to a job offer. The more the company needs you to accept the job, the more negotiating room you have. If you are in a skilled profession, you should definitely be negotiating.

But I'm afraid to negotiate my salary!

Women especially are worried that they will make people mad by asking for more. Men, on the other hand, often expect people to ask for more. (Look for studies about the "Ultimatum Game" to learn more.) This puts women at a great disadvantage and probably accounts for at least part of the current wage gap in industrialized countries. What is the wage gap? Women make about 75% of what men do, on average, across most Western countries. In some fields, the wage gap is lower, in some it is higher (counter-intuitively, professions dominated by women often have a larger wage gap, perhaps because men fill most higher-paid positions). Many other factors affect salaries, such as race or children (women with children make less money, men with children make more), but in general, women's salaries have stalled at 75% of men's overall for decades.

As long as your demands are reasonable, negotiating your compensation will not make people mad. Occasionally it may make them grumpy (no one likes paying more than they have to), and they may use grumpiness or feigned anger as a negotiating tactic, but it won't make them mark you for retaliation. In any case, do you want to work for a company where people are intolerant of negotiation? How will you get the vacation time you want, or a raise later on?

The bigger concern is that not negotiating will make you look bad. People are more likely to lose respect for you if you don't negotiate than if you do. This is especially true in jobs in which negotiating skills are important, such as a position in which you have to buy equipment or lease office space.

I don't want to appear selfish, ignoble, ungrateful...

No one else is going to look out for you as well as yourself. It's up to you make sure that you are treated (and compensated) fairly. When you take of yourself, those around you benefit. If you have children, think of how much bigger their college fund could be.

If you are female and a feminist—someone who believes that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities—it is especially important that you negotiate your compensation. Pay inequity between men and women improved dramatically through the 60's and 70's but has plateaued since then at about 75% of male pay. There are many reasons for this, but you can do your part to correct it by negotiating your salary. Women often base their expectations on what other women make (not knowing that this is much less than men make), and accepting lower compensation than you deserve will hurt them as well. Also, employers are likely to offer women less if women will accept less.

If you're not willing to ask for fair compensation for yourself, do it for those around you and for women as a whole. We will thank you for it.

I don't know how to negotiate my salary!

That's what this HOWTO is for! Keep reading.