What Career Mistake Is Costing Women Over $500,000?

February 15, 2016

When a woman receives a job offer and chooses not to negotiate her salary, how much could it cost her over the course of a career?

Try over $500,000.

It’s a staggering amount conveyed by Linda Babcock and Sara Lashever, authors of the book, “Women Don’t Ask.” Add up the dollars from every negotiation that didn’t happen at key stages of a woman’s career. Every opportunity to speak up during a promotion. Every moment to express her opinion on what she deserves during a job interview.

Could many women move up the corporate ladder? Absolutely and obviously they have. However, a deep problem exists in that there’s money lost on every rung of that ladder due to lack of negotiation. A survey from Salary.com finds that only 30% of women will negotiate their salary after receiving a job offer compared to 46% of men.

So why are women opting out of negotiations so frequently and what can be done to reverse this trend? Once we understand the rationale for why the give-and-take isn’t happening, we can explore some real strategies for getting the dollars and equality women deserve in a negotiation.

The Breakdown At The Beginning

To be clear, it isn’t that we think women are inherently lackluster at negotiation – it’s that far too many are still reluctant to even consider it when they have every right to do so and will often achieve a successful outcome when they do.

Let’s say a female candidate receives an offer and takes it back to her recruiter. At GForce, one of the questions we pose to our candidates is, “Are you happy with this offer and have you fully considered the overall compensation package based on the requirements of the job?” If the answer is no, we encourage her to consider a counteroffer. Then, suddenly a wave of nervousness washes over her.

She worries about what the reaction is going to be on the other end if she brings back a new number. She worries about being labeled as too aggressive or demanding.

That’s where Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of the book, “Lean In,” has a unique strategy – don’t run from the situation. Let them know upfront of your intentions for negotiation by being completely transparent:

“I have advised many women to preface negotiations by explaining that they …., are going to negotiate rather than accept the original offer. One way of doing this is to suggest that someone more senior encouraged the negotiation (“My manager suggested I talk with you about my compensation”) or cite industry standards (“My understanding is that jobs that involve this level of responsibility are compensated in this range”)”

There’s a reason for taking this tone, which may in turn express a position of strength and confidence. Sandberg states every negotiation is unique, so women must adjust their approach accordingly. She points out that men rarely, if ever, need to explain why they’re negotiating. It’s become standard practice and they’re often respected for it afterwards – to the point of where it may be surprising if the male candidate doesn’t attempt to negotiate. He doesn’t want to counteroffer? What’s wrong with him?

Women haven’t had the luxury of such assumptions in their favor. For them, negotiating isn’t always seen as standard and they don’t necessarily receive the same respect and admiration as men during negotiations. At GForce, we showcase and illustrate market value compensation for all roles and encourage our candidates to assess their compensation plans accordingly. It’s not just about comparing yourself to the average either; you need to evaluate the value you bring to your next opportunity.

It is no wonder too many women will look at making a lateral move rather than a bump in pay. If they get a 3% increase over what they’re currently earning, they may be happy. It’s this kind of gratitude for a “good enough” compensation offer during negotiation that proves costly over the long haul. There’s no time like now to raise those expectations. This doesn’t have to mean being difficult – rather, it means being creative in your negotiation strategy so you stand a greater likelihood of getting what you deserve.

Strategies for Negotiating Your Compensation

1) Get Creative with Compensation
It’s almost inevitable that during the process a hiring manager will ask the question “What is your current salary?”

There’s nothing wrong with giving the straight answer to this question about what you’re currently earning, but you can in turn ask a question such as, “Can you talk to me about the compensation range that individuals presently make in this role?” Let it be clear you are open to negotiating your salary and express why you merit what you want to make. Additionally, find out if the organization is open to being creative with their compensation package.

As the interview moves into a negotiation phase, there is an opportunity for the conversation to include so much more – rather than strictly an exchange revolving around numbers, there are further possibilities to expand upon. For example, besides salary, could this talk include a possible signing bonus or 6-month guarantee in addition to a base salary? Have you considered the cost of your benefits, vacation, wellness stipends, etc.?

2) Remember, you’re worth it – more than you probably realize
In Women Don’t Ask, women have been cited as having salary expectations as much as 32% lower than men for the same roles.

As individuals, we know how hard we work. In many cases, women don’t necessarily receive the appropriate pay for that effort. However, when they think about all the creative ways that a compensation package could be negotiated, the discussion becomes no longer just about salary.

I know firsthand that when you’re paid what you’re worth, you’ll tend to be happier in your job.

3) Partnering with the right staffing consultant can make all the difference in negotiation
With the help of our staffing consultants, we can show you how good planning melts away your concerns surrounding negotiation. After all, in addition to helping candidates negotiate for what they want, we’ve known what it’s like to negotiate during our careers too. From coaching you on your approach to role playing to ensuring your goals are set appropriately high enough, you’ll find that negotiation is nothing to fear.

If you’re a female candidate, what are the biggest fears you have about salary negotiation? Are you more skilled today at negotiation than you used to be and if so, what did you learn to elevate your skills and confidence to be a better negotiator? We’d love to hear more about your experiences.