equal pay

Today Is Equal Pay Day. So, If You're a Woman Asking for More Money, Think Like a Man. Just Don't Act Like One.

Stop being a people-pleaser. And understand your market value.
Today Is Equal Pay Day. So, If You're a Woman Asking for More Money, Think Like a Man. Just Don't Act Like One.
Image credit: Klaus Vedfelt | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Head of Communications, Comparably
10 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Back in 2014, after finding out through Sony’s massive hacking scandal that her male co-stars in American Hustle had been paid more than she, actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote a now-famous essay for actress Lena Dunham's blog, reflecting on her own role in the situation.

Related: Women Won't Achieve Equal Representation in Business Unless Men Help Change the Status Quo

“I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early,” Lawrence wrote. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight.”

How many of us women have felt and done the exact same thing? With both hands in the air, I’m ashamed to say this was also my story. Even after a 15-year career as a marketing and public relations executive whose main mission is promoting brands, I still cringe at the thought of having to “sell” the brand I live with everyday ... myself.

It’s no secret that asking for a raise, promotion or bonus can be challenging. But full-time female workers are still earning just 79 cents for every dollar earned by men (pay parity won't be reached until 2059, it's predicted; and the date will be much later for women of color).

So, why is it that as many as one in three women give up the opportunity to negotiate at all?

The answer is that it comes down to gender stereotypes. Over and over again, we’ve seen examples of how behavior that can lead a man to be seen as a "straight-shooter" or a "no-nonsense guy" can lead a woman to be seen as “bitchy” or “nasty.” This, of course, puts women at an immediate disadvantage in negotiating. So how do we cultivate a direct and straightforward communication style the way men do without being perceived as jerks? Can we remain tough on the issues we’re negotiating for without being cast this way?

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or already a seasoned professional, today, April 10 -- Equal Pay Day -- arm yourself with these 10 strategies so you have a fighting chance at the negotiating table.

Related: Girls Just Wanna Have (Equal) Funds

Stop being a people-pleaser.

As women, we tend to value personal relationships over negotiating because of an instinctive need to be liked or perceived as “good” or “nice.” We don’t want to ruffle feathers over money, so we tend to shy away from it altogether.

There are a myriad of biases about women and men, and they affect how we see each other and our leaders at work. These include beliefs about what makes an ideal chief (strong, assertive, male) and what kind of qualities a woman should exhibit (warmth, sociability, compassion). And they shape everything from hiring and promotions to performance evaluations.

That is why when we do muster up the courage to negotiate, we either come across as too aggressive or lacking the skills and self-confidence to be good negotiators.

Have confidence, but don’t show too much.

Remember that the purpose of compensation negotiation in a job interview or performance review is to sell and promote yourself as a brand. If you don't believe you're worth the price you're asking, your employer won't believe it, either. While women are perceived to have less confidence than men in a business setting, studies on women’s and men’s brains suggest that that might not be a deficiency, only a difference in women's personality.

There’s a difference between being confident and being egotistical. When a man displays aggression, he’s considered confident. When a woman does, she may be considered "over the top." Since we women have that perception working against us, we should use our female strengths to our advantage, like listening and asking open-ended questions to gain more insight and understanding.

Related: History Is the Only Reason 'The Queen' Was Paid Less Than 'Prince Philip'

Negotiate your own way.

Because women have to worry more about how they're perceived, they face an unfair burden. In fact, studies show that acting the exact same way as men in negotiations doesn't work for women.

But women can turn this double standard to their benefit. Women who ask for what they want by not seeming overly aggressive and by acting in a more social, friendly way can be more effective at getting what they want -- without turning people against them.

As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, “Think personally, act communally.” So, in the salary context, that calls for using the female personality trait of a "relational account" and asking for what you want while signaling to your negotiating counterpart -- often a man -- that you are also taking his perspective.

How do you do this “I-we” strategy? Explain why -- in his eyes -- it’s appropriate for you to negotiate under the circumstances. Sandberg said she told Facebook, “You’re hiring me to run your deal team, so you want me to be a good negotiator. This is the only time you and I will be on opposite sides of the table.”

In other words, she wanted her future employer to see her negotiating as legitimate because that was going to be a major role in her job. But at the same time she made it clear that she cared about organizational relationships.

Related: This Tech Founder Was Often the Only Woman in the Room When She Started Her Company. Here's Her Advice for Young Entrepreneurs.

Understand your market value.

The No. 1 mistake people make in negotiating is trying to wing it. Instead, write everything down. Come to the negotiating table with a hard number in mind and also one that you’re willing to accept. During one of my annual reviews years ago, I created a chart that compared my salary to others' in my industry based on title, location and experience.

I compiled this data through generic salary sites, conversations with industry peers and other job offers I had on the table. My boss was shocked to find the company was paying me less than a competitive salary -- and was impressed that I had done such thorough research. My strategy paid off, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to remain truly motivated to get the job done well. Career sites like IndeedComparably or FairyGodBoss can be a  great resource to use for your next negotiation. 

Show the value you bring to the company.

To ask for a raise or to ask to move to another job, note your accomplishments and attach time and money to them. As women, we don’t pat ourselves on the back for a job because we fear appearing egotistical. But this is not the time to hold back. Just state the facts. Prove how your projects, events or campaigns have translated to improving the bottom line, whether that be in ratings, revenue, ad value, online views, registered users or partnerships.

Show how you are uniquely positioned to take the company to the next level. I once asked a former boss to let me negotiate for myself with his boss. Doing that was risky, but it offered me the opportunity to sit down with the ultimate decision-maker and prove why I, too, deserved a seat at the table with my male colleagues. That meeting resulted in a 10 percent increase in my salary and a bigger bonus.

Related: How Reflexively Apologizing for Everything All the Time Undermines Your Career

Remain flexible.

Sometimes we feel that whoever is in the position of power is controlling the negotiation. Not true. Listening can be a position of power and strength.

If the company simply can’t “show you the money,” ask for reasons why not and listen intently. Stay open to an alternative solution. I once took a new job at the same pay rate and title because it would give me new growth opportunities; however, I negotiated to receive a higher salary if I hit certain goals within six months. I asked for this in writing, and my employer made good on it six months later (side note: always have anything important in writing). You can also negotiate additional benefits, like stock, options, equity, bonuses, extra vacation days or a more flexible work schedule.

Be likable.

No matter how much you’ve accomplished on paper, anything you do in a work environment or negotiation that makes you less likable reduces the chances that the other side will work to get you the offer you’re looking for. As an example, Netflix has an infamous culture deck considered one of the most important to come out of Silicon Valley.

Managers there use a “keeper test” to evaluate employees: if someone you managed was leaving for a job at a peer company, would you fight hard to keep that employee? Clearly, this test works because Netflix has become one of the most innovative companies out there. This sounds basic, but it’s crucial: People are going to fight for you only if they like you.

Related: How We Can All Elevate Women and Give Them a Voice in the Business World

Ask your male colleagues for help.

Don’t be afraid to ask your male colleagues and industry peers how much they make or for advice on how they negotiated their salaries and benefits. This issue is not a male vs. female issue. This is an equality issue, and most men are happy to help their colleagues out. 

Advocate for all women.

Last, but not least if you can’t advocate for yourself, do it for the sake of other women. There are younger women watching to see if you’re just accepting the status quo or pushing back and fighting for your position. Demonstrating that you’re not going to take less than fair pay will motivate more women to do the same.

Realize that it’s not just about you. You’re negotiating for your colleagues, department, company, family, future. If that doesn’t light a fire, remember that women often advance more slowly than equally qualified men because men are more likely to ask for prestigious assignments, volunteer for opportunities that will give them more visibility and pursue raises and promotions. Women, in contrast, often expect that hard work and high-quality work will be recognized and rewarded without asking. This is frequently not true.

Related: New Study Finds the Global Gender Pay Gap Won't Be Closed Until 2186

As presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech: "To all the little girls ... never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. We still have not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But someday, someone will."

And I, for one, hope it’s you -- in whatever field or business you’re in. So, start negotiating.

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