Fixing the Pay Gap Starts With Your Salary Negotiation Skills

From initial offers to part-time requests, here's what both employers and employees aren't often considering.

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By Lydia Belanger

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Chances are, you didn't negotiate your last salary offer -- more than half of all American workers don't. Women are especially reluctant, fearing they'll look pushy or even lose the job offer entirely.

And while not asking for a higher salary can hold anyone back, this practice has dramatic impact on those who get offered a lower salary to begin with. Research has revealed that wage gaps exist across gender, race and age lines and across education levels and fields from tech to elementary education. Working an underpaying job means being more likely to struggle with things like daily expenses, retirement savings and escaping poverty.

While many employers -- especially in male-dominated tech -- are working to correct these issues, employees and hiring managers can do their part by getting better at salary negotiation. After all, even those who do negotiate often don't think they did it effectively.

In recognition of Equal Pay Day in the U.S., an event that annually raises awareness about pay gaps between men and women, Entrepreneur talked to Sally Klingel, the director of labor management relations at the Cornell University Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. She's outlined three common negotiation scenarios for employees and hiring managers to ensure the offer process is handled fairly and confidently.

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

Scenario One: Initial offer

For hiring managers: Many job descriptions state something along the lines of, "salary commensurate with experience." Klingel advises employers to instead establish a salary range when they search for new employees -- one which they're willing to negotiate within. This range sets expectations for the search, especially internally. It also helps level the playing field by avoiding the "wait-and-see" crutch. "It's not about going into each negotiation just waiting and thinking, "We'll see what they ask for, and then we'll decide if want to give it to them," she says, "but actually trying to make this a more straightforward affair so that you aren't advantaging those who are a little more bold."

For potential hires: Don't just research the salary range for the job and know what's common for the company and your industry. During the negotiation, ask, ""What's your criteria for making pay decisions before you make an offer?'" Klingel suggests. Employers might respond by specifying priorities such as longevity, new skills or productivity, which will help you make your case.

And if you're reluctant to ask for what you want, consider that your competition isn't, Klingel says. Women are less likely than men to ask for a salary on the high end of a range, as well as less likely to inflate their salary needs.

Related: 8 Ways to Negotiate Your Way to a Higher Salary

Scenario Two: Requesting a flexible or part-time schedule

For managers: There are a number of reasons staffers might want to -- even temporarily -- transition to part-time jobs, say to spend more time with young children or care for an elderly family member. Companies can get ahead of these discussions by outlining general company policies with a flexibile job offer built in for individual circumstances, as well as check-ins to determine if the new setup is still working for everyone involved.

Still, employers will need to be open to job options within that policy, and not just limit it to what worked for the last person. And while you might be tempted to handle requests on a case-by-case basis, be careful. Managers need to make sure they're not establishing a discriminatory pattern, Klingel says, or putting themselves in a position where they can't replicate a solution for another employee.

Related: The 15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs

For employees: Once again, do your homework. Before you meet with your boss, search for what flexible schedule policies already exist, who might have taken advantage of them and what those experiences were like. And before you iron out a full proposal, meet with your manager to have a conversation about what the company might need from your job role. "You don't have to anticipate what's the right solution until you've had a back-and-forth," she says.

Be open minded about solutions. Emphasize that you want to jointly come up with a plan that allows you to keep making keep making productive contributions -- and not put the company at a disadvantage.

And don't assume you're the only staffer with a need for flexibility. This might mean talking to others on your team and brainstorming on solutions that could benefit the group. "I think women tend to feel like it's up to them to come up with a solution to their situation as opposed to talking with others who have similar situations and looking for something that will work broadly for everyone," Klingel says.

Related: Why Banning Salary Negotiations Won't Close the Gender Pay Gap

Scenario Three: Asking for a raise

For managers: Klingel emphasizes that periodic performance reviews can be a great opportunity to jumpstart conversations about performance and expectations. While you should give feedback about the jobs your employees are doing regularly, a formal review can help make a salary talk -- and the resulting offer -- less surprising when pay boosts or promotions aren't appropriate. They can also help standardize your conversations about progress, making salary increases more fair.

For employees: While knowing how others have earned new jobs, titles or salary boosts is helpful, you'll also need to honest with yourself. "You may think, "I'm working harder than everybody else,'" Klingel says, "but our perceptions of that are often way off. So you have to be disciplined about not making assumptions."

Related: 7 Ways to Make Extra Income Even With a Full-Time Job

To help ground you, keep an open dialogue with your manager about the job you are doing and know what goes into decisions to offer staffers promotions or pay raises. When you think you've earned a better salary or job role, be clear about your contributions and your needs to either move ahead or learn more. Then present a range of options. Talk about the pros and cons from both perspectives, and ask for insights form the person on the other side of the table.

"The negotiation doesn't have to be this trading situation where, "I made this proposal, now you tell me what your counter offer is,' which could often be quite reductive," Klingel says. With this approach, "the creativity gets cut off."

Lydia Belanger
Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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