Relatively early in my career, I read somewhere that a great deal of the wage gap between men and women could be explained by the fact that women were much less likely to negotiate their salaries. Taking this information to heart, I've negotiated every single salary I've received since graduating law school. When I did not feel comfortable negotiating the actual salary, I devoted energy toward ensuring additional vacation time, stock options, bonus eligibility, and other benefits.
Still, just because I'm relatively experienced at negotiating salaries does not mean that I ever find the process to be particularly comfortable. In fact, even at this point in my career, I can still find the process to be daunting, intimidating and (depending on how badly the job is needed) a little frightening. Nor can I can pretend that every single one of my negotiations have been successful.
For example, when my son was about four months old, I was desperate to leave a position that was making me unhappy. Luckily, a well established company in the region had recently emerged from bankruptcy protection and was looking for a corporate attorney. I applied, interviewed and received a job offer. The problem? The offer was a pittance. The position involved 50% more hours than I was presently working, but paid barely 5% more than my current salary. The myriad questions during the interview process about "How do you feel about taking calls from us after 8:00 PM at night?" made my qualms even heavier.
As unhappy as I was in the position I had, it was clear that this was an Old Boys Club and frankly, their offer was insulting. I tried to work with what I had. I reviewed the offer and said that I would take it, but that I was surprised at how low it was and would accept only contingent on my ability to work one day a week at home. During this negotiation, I inadvertently let it slip that I had a newborn at home. Instead of accepting my counter-offer, they yanked the entire offer off of the table. It was thinly veiled (if not overt) sex discrimination and I gladly accepted their decision. Good riddance! This isn't the 1800s, and men who are that intimidated by working mothers seeking reasonable flexibility and a justifiable salary don't deserve the talents such women bring to the table.
Contrast this with a different salary negotiation a few years later. I was actually nervous about "throwing out a number" because I wasn't quite sure what the employer could afford to pay. I hedged for a couple of weeks by saying things like "If I'm the right candidate, I'm confident that we can arrive at a mutually agreeable salary." They were clearly in start-up mode and running lean. Still, I didn't want to low-ball my own salary! When I finally gave them a number, it was greeted with a solid "Yes" (from an amazing female executive) along with "The next time someone asks you for a salary, you should say 'This is my number, and I'll earn every goddamn penny of it.'"
Here are my tips for negotiating a salary:
Tips For Establishing Material Worth
Understand the Landscape
There are plenty of amazing resources that you can rely on to determine the scope of your position’s ideal salary range, including the following: Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, Payscale.com, (discreet) discussions with other employees at your company (either current or former), discussions with those who hold equivalent positions at other employers at industry networking events, government informational sites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), and comparable job postings, such as those on Linkedin.com, Ladders.com or Indeed.com that include salary information. Through these methods, you should be able to determine an acceptable salary range for your position.
If you find that you consistently come in on the lowest end of the salary range (or worse, under the range) you should determine whether there are mitigating factors driving that trend. Examples of mitigating factors include the following: (a) you have chosen to work at a start-up, and anticipate that your salary will grow in a manner somewhat commensurate with the growth of the company (or perhaps, your compensation is disproportionately made up of things like vacation time and stock options, in lieu of higher salary); or (b) you are simply inexperienced and unable to yet command the highest salary for your position. These are acceptable reasons to be on the low end of the salary range.
After several years at a job, you are no longer “entry-level,” and your pay should be adjusted accordingly to reflect your experience and successes. Be wary the minute you realize that you are on the low end of a salary range. While it may represent something simple (e.g. inexperience), it could also represent something insidious (e.g. sexism). The key is to evaluate the trend over time in terms of degree (e.g. just how far under that range are you, woman?) and amelioration (e.g. have you and your colleagues been regularly rewarded with raises or bonuses?)
Pay Attention to Attrition
One significant workplace trend to pay close attention to is that of attrition, specifically what your employer does to prevent it (or not). I can think of several employers locally with a reputation for offering lucrative positions to junior employees, only to burn them out with overwhelming workloads, excessive hours, and unrelenting pressure to meet unrealistic goals. While these employees make decent money to start, the pace is not sustainable, so few obtain advancement within the company’s ranks. If you look around and notice that there is massive attrition among your ranks, this is a sign that advancement will likely be quite hard to come by. If you find that your efforts to “arrive early and stay late,” or otherwise excel are not greeted with enthusiasm by your superiors, you are likely in one of these dead-end positions. Staying there too long will certainly harm your chances to command a higher salary in your field.
Keep An Ear To The Ground
Consider the rumor mill. I would never encourage harmful gossip, but certainly that doesn’t mean that you should ignore rumors of pay inequity. If you hear that someone in a position equivalent (or perhaps, junior) to your own received a generous raise or promotion that dwarfs your current salary, this is certainly noteworthy. Either their increase was substantial, in which case, you should consider whether your performance also justifies such an increase; or their base salary was considerably higher to begin with.
Establish A Relationship With A Recruiter
If appropriate, reach out to a recruiter. I have a recruiter that I’ve formed a nice relationship with over the years, and I wouldn’t hesitate to engage him in a discussion about salary if needed. A great way to bond with a recruiter if you are not actually hired through one is to simply give referrals and recommendations. Recruiters devote considerable time to discussions with potential employers, as well as candidates, and often have their finger on the pulse of how people are paid within certain localities. It is not a faux pas to inquire generally about the recruiter’s success with equivalent positions in the recent past, such as the types of compensation packages that were approved and how they were justified. If you speak to recruiters in your area and find that equivalently positioned employees at either your employer or comparable ones in your area have been granting compensation packages in excess of the one your currently have, you may need to consider campaigning for a salary correction or raise.
Note Relationships Between Company Performance and Your Pay
Note disconnections between your company’s performance and your salary. If your company has been growing gangbusters for the last three years, but you haven’t seen a single increase to your salary, you could possibly be underpaid for your position. During periods of growth, employees often experience “seep” of job duties, meaning that the employees take on additional duties just because things need to be done, not necessarily in relation to an increase in position or fancier job title. After a couple of years of “seep,” the position you are in could be a far cry (and much more complex) than the one you were in at your date of hire (i.e. the day your base salary was determined). In addition, when companies are growing, they may feel that they can offer more competitive salaries to new employees. This is fantastic, as long as they also work to ensure competitive salaries for those employees that have been with the company for a long time, and likely joined at a time when such packages were unavailable. You may need to have a substantial raise to make up for the fact that you started at a lower salary than people newly hired into a more profitable environment.
Personally, I believe that seeping of job duties is one of the most common reasons that women remain underpaid in the workforce. As women, many of us are conditioned to be "helpers" and we often allow ourselves to be taken advantage of over time by permitting an increase of responsibility without a correlating increase in pay.
Formal Performance Appraisals
If you have not had a formal performance evaluation in some time, you may want to push for one. Most companies tie pay increases to either personal performance, company performance or a combination of both. If you have not had a formal performance review, this may represent a lagging inclination of the management team to dole out financial rewards for your achievements. Taking an assertive step to request such a meeting generally sends a clear message that you care about how your performance is viewed, and that you are paying attention to your compensation level.
If you did not negotiate your salary upon hire, chances are that your base pay is lower than it needs to be, and you should consider whether your raises have properly compensated for the difference. Sometimes, the simple reason that we do not command a higher salary is that we did not ask for one.
Asking for a salary increase should be relatively straightforward. Don't plan a monologue. Chances are that your immediate supervisor is going to have to make the case for increasing your salary to others on the executive team, such as the CFO or Controller. Salary increases don't exist in a vacuum. Salaries are often behind only rent in terms of company expenses, so leadership watches these carefully. Keep this in mind as you craft your approach: "What quick bullet points can I provide my boss so that she can make a strong case for increasing my salary to someone else?" It is not uncommon for people to think that asking their boss in the end of this process, when in reality it is often the beginning.
It should be obvious that objective, measurable bullet points make a strong and quick case for increase. The easiest salary negotiations contain language like this: "My efforts have led to a thirty percent decrease in the processing time for customer service requests, which translates into happier customers and greases the wheels for more sales." The worst salary negotiations contain no objective support, and rest on something like "I haven't had an increase since I started working here two years ago." Unless the original salary was way off base, the latter approach will likely be greeted with "Well, what have you done in the last two years to merit an adjustment?"
I do not have to accept any external evaluation of my worth that does not resonate with my heart, soul and mind. I do not have to accept any limitations on my ability to create and experience abundance, in all its forms. I have been created with a wholly unique symphony of gifts, experiences, talents, affinities, and interests, and trust Spirit completely to ensure that I receive in turn what I put out into the world. I am willing to let go of any preconceived notions that I may have about how much I should be earning, how often opportunities to increase my abundance arrive in my life, and any other parameters which place limitations on my ability to receive the abundance that Spirit wants to bless me with in this lifetime. I am a grateful recipient of all abundance that comes my way, and humbly remember that the Universe has its own measures of net worth.
I've included stories, anecdotes and useful tips I've gained over my career as an Entrepreneur, Board Member, Executive and Senior Counsel. I hope you can find ways to navigate to your own dreams by learning from my experience! Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want to share your own stories. Stay inspired!