4 key strategies women need to negotiate a higher salary

Working women face discriminatory salary differences compared to those of their male counterparts. Learn how you as a woman can advocate for yourself in salary negotiations to ensure that you are paid what you rightfully deserve.

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As college grads head out for their first job interviews, most are eager to just land an offer. But understanding how to negotiate a better salary after landing that offer may have a big impact on take-home pay. Unfortunately, men and women face quite different outcomes when they enter salary negotiations, and female negotiators often find themselves in a double bind. Those women who choose not to negotiate forego the extra pay, and women who do choose to negotiate can be perceived as too pushy or selfish. Successful men can negotiate aggressively without any fear of repercussions, but women must straddle this fine line so they are not perceived as being overly ambitious. So, how can women maximize their pay while still being liked?

Let me just preface these suggestions by stating that it's unfortunate that women still need this list in 2018. We need this list because ambitious, aggressive women are, sadly, still perceived as not likable. Ambitious, aggressive men, by contrast, are liked just fine. The ultimate goal is to change these perceptions and have men and women evaluated equally at work. Until we get rid of these biases, women can use these tips as a workaround.

1. Negotiate in service to your organization

Jennifer Palmieri, director of communications for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, writes in her book, Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World, that Clinton's ambition was off-putting to people. Like many women, Clinton was not liked because she was a motivated, aspiring woman who didn't fit the typical feminine stereotype. On the advice of researchers, the campaign concluded that Clinton's ambition could not be about her, but, instead, Clinton had to be in the race to be "in service to others." Clinton's accomplishments were presented as things she had done "in service to others," and the achievements she was pursuing as president were also framed as being "in service to others." Pollsters confirmed, this was the best way for Clinton to pursue her ambitious goals while still being liked.

This strategy works well for female employees negotiating their salaries as well. Your ambition isn't about you, it's about the greater good. You're asking for a raise, a promotion, or a longer vacation because it's the best thing for your organization. Researchers Hannah Riley Bowles and Linda Babcock studied different negotiating strategies and found women might experience better salary outcomes if they described how their negotiating skill could benefit the company: "I don't know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I'm hopeful you'll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I bring to the job."

Similarly, Sheryl Sandberg explained at a forum at Stanford University, "If you are negotiating for a raise and you are a man, you can walk in and say 'I deserve this.' That will not backfire on you. We know the data says it will backfire on a woman. So, I think along with saying 'I deserve this', explaining that this is important for your performance, and this will make you more effective as a team member." In other words, you need to explain why your pay raise will also benefit the organization.

Sheryl Sandberg continued that she heard that using her book, Lean In, is also an effective negotiation strategy. "I've heard stories over and over, a whole bunch of people started negotiating using Lean In. They would say, I read this book, and I don't think that women should get paid less than men, and it proved to be very effective because what you were saying is this isn't just about me, it's about a broader issue for women." In other words, your ambition isn't about you, it's in service to others.

2. Blame someone else for your request

I have to reiterate that it's unfortunate that women can't just ask for a raise simply because they deserve it. Given that strategy is off the table, researchers have also found that there could be some advantage to blaming someone else for your request. In other words, you're suggesting, I wouldn't normally ask for this extra money, but this other person, organization, book, or website suggested it was a good idea. If you're a student applying for your first job, you could blame your advisor at school or a training program manager. Researchers Bowles and Babcock found that using this line resulted in better negotiation outcomes for women in their study: "My team leader during the training program told me that I should talk with you about my compensation. It was not clear to us whether this salary offer represents the top of the pay range. My team leader told me there is a range in terms of how much managers are paid in their first placement. He thought I should ask to be paid at the top of that range."

3. Negotiate cooperatively

There is 1 type of negotiation where women outperform men, and that's cooperative bargaining. In this type of negotiation, the negotiators optimize the outcomes for all parties involved. This type of negotiation involves asking a lot of questions and truly understanding the position of your negotiating partner so that both of you can arrive at a solution that's a win-win. In other words, you transform the negotiation from a competitive, conflict situation to a mutual problem-solving experience. Perhaps you learn that your organization doesn't have the money to give you a pay raise right now, but in 6 months that may change. Maybe you learn that your organization really needs someone to keep an eye on the overseas locations and will pay higher salaries to those willing to work early morning hours. Or if higher salary is off the table, perhaps longer vacation time, educational expenses, or moving costs could be negotiated.

4. Always ask

Research shows that men are up to 4 times more likely than women to negotiate their salary offers. I teach my university students about the importance of negotiating and that often women don't even try to negotiate because they don't think a particular salary is negotiable. Even if you don't think the salary is negotiable, it doesn't hurt to ask, I tell them. One student raised her hand and asked if I had negotiated when I was offered my lecturer position at the university. I hadn't—I didn't think lecturer's salaries were negotiable. It's hard to ask, but it's an essential step if women are to reach parity with men at work. I went to the Psychology Department, and I asked. Think about it this way: if you don't ask, the answer is always no. And if you never hear 'no,' then you're not asking nearly enough.

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Article copyright 2018 by Forbes. Reprinted from the April 24, 2018 issue with permission from Forbes.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Fidelity Investments cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data.
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