How Women Can Negotiate Their Way To Higher Pay

"Don't walk into it thinking that you've already lost."

It's no secret women face inherent bias in the workplace. From the gender wage gap to the child care penalty, women are constantly fighting an uphill battle that seems steeper with every step. But, when it comes to negotiating for higher pay, the most daunting hurdles often originate with the doubts we've internalized after years of being made to fear the negative repercussions exacted when speaking up for ourselves.

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As Robin Li, vice president of GGV Capital notes, women often worry about their image and how they'll be perceived if they negotiate. "Surveys have shown that men will initiate negotiations 4 times more frequently than women and 55 percent of women report not engaging in negotiation because they didn't want to come across as pushy," Li told A Plus. "The underlying issue is our mindset – we must recognize the unconscious self bias we have against ourselves in order to level the playing field. If we don't actively work against our own roadblocks, our chances to equal the playing field will only decrease."

From outright rejection and being blacklisted from projects, to gaining the reputation of being difficult and seeming greedy, women feel they must strike that precarious balance between "knowing their place" and "knowing their worth" in the professional world if they hope to gain and maintain the respect of their colleagues. However, as women gain more ground throughout society and become more vocal about what they want — and deserve — sugarcoating one's achievements may quickly become a thing of the past.

LaKiesha Tomlin, career consultant, speaker, and founder of Thriving Ambition, advises women to discuss their accomplishments openly without shame, for they've worked hard and deserve credit for what they've achieved.

"Telling yourself that you’ve earned this promotion or salary is the only way that you will be successful in negotiating," Tomlin told A Plus.

Woman working on her computer. 
 GaudiLab / Shutterstock

"Remind yourself about all the time's you've sacrificed and overcame personal roadblocks," Tomlin continued. "Relive those moments to help you snap out of imposter syndrome. Understanding your product — yourself — inside and out will help you remain confident in negotiations."

Devon Smiley, negotiation consultant and speaker, notes that, while many of her clients tend to downplay their contributions to their company, those who do so only end up cheating themselves out of hard-earned money they genuinely deserve.

"The fear of looking greedy will usually prevent a woman from either asking at all, or if she does ask, it will be for an amount far less than she really deserves," she told A Plus. "In my work with clients, I find that there's a 'gut reaction' number a woman will want for their salary, but as they think, and think, and overthink some more, that number gets whittled down. My rule of thumb is that the figure you're asking for should always be credible based on your experience and contributions, but it should also give you a slightly nervous excited feeling — like the one we get at the top of a rollercoaster. That's how you know you're stretching your limits and being ambitious in your ask."

Smiley suggests that, prior to embarking upon the negotiation process, women should spend time preparing for the discussion itself. Start by following these essential steps:

1. Start building your ‘sweetness’ file now.

Create a folder on your computer, or in your inbox, where you can collect all the emails in which colleagues or superiors compliment your work, documents that show the success of the projects you've worked on, and a list of the initiatives to which you've contributed. These examples will act as evidence of your value as you fight for what you're worth.

Keeping this folder will prevent your achievements from slipping through the cracks.

2. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Speaking clearly and using precise language is crucial. Women often stumble or mumble when they first utter that big number, and doing so undermines their credibility. Getting used to making the ask — "Based on my performance, I'm requesting a raise of X percent" — by repeating it in the mirror or while walking the dog will make the ask feel like second nature once the actual moment arrives.

Smiley also notes that it's vital to avoid apologetic phrasing. 'Sorry to bother you, but I hoped that maybe we could discuss my salary if it's not too much of a bother?' puts women at a disadvantage, for instance. Women should ask for a salary that reflects the value of their contributions, for which they should never be sorry. After all, a raise's ripple of influence ultimately extends to your family, friends, and community, which isn't remotely greedy.

Yet, while women generally earn less than their male counterparts, women of color face an even greater wage gap. Women of color must breach both gender and racial bias. Thus, they must come equipped with more confidence and conviction than the average woman, for they need to prove, without a doubt, that they're worth the investment.

"I can't speak for all women of color. For me it came down to believing that I have the right to be where I wanted to be," Tomlin said. "Then, taking actions to make my dreams a reality. It took a lot of perseverance and relentlessness trying to get there, though. There were a lot of "no's" but I kept going — and continue to do so. Also, I moved around a few times. It's unlikely you will close the gap staying at the same company or department."

Unfortunately, no matter how prepared or poised you might be, negotiations don't always go as planned. That's why you should always have alternatives at hand, for it's important to keep the conversation going, even if progress has stalled.

"Sometimes the company is going through a rough time and no one is getting promoted or an increase in salary. Maybe you're at a large company with standard packages with very little wriggle room," Tomlin explained. "Before heading into negotiations, think about what you would do if things don't go your way. This does two things. First, you won't seem desperate in the negotiations. Second, you will have a couple of options that you can look forward to if it doesn't work out. I like to have at least two options in my back pocket. When they say no, look for creative alternatives. Don't just accept their answer and walk away with nothing — especially if it's something you really want."

If you can't secure an increase in your salary, look for other ways to boost your compensation. Your employer might be willing to offer flexible hours or remote work opportunities. Many employers will also agree to pay for you to attend an industry event, or pursue advanced educational opportunities. At the very least, ask your manager for feedback on which skills you can develop in order to be prepared for your follow-up negotiation session.

"Don't walk into it thinking that you've already lost. I always have to remind myself that you have to advocate for yourself and that no one else is going to do it for you," Li said. "For any big negotiation, it is very important to remind myself of body language, tone, and content.  I always write out key points and practice. It is important to practice saying it aloud so you feel comfortable and own it. You can't expect others to know what you want. Always keep emotions of out of the equation."

And, even if the prospects look bleak, never let your resolve waver. Instead, take Smiley's best advice to heart and put her words into action:

"Relying on a sudden burst of motivation to ask for a raise can mean that we either never get the burst (and therefore never ask…) or we try to have the conversation casually, by dropping by our manager's office for a chat, which can feel more like an ambush than a salary review meeting," Smiley emphasized. "Scheduling the meeting in advance, with a clear request to discuss 'performance and compensation' allows both you and your employer to prepare, and it also keeps you accountable. No chickening out at the last minute!"

Whether the negotiation goes your way or not, at least you will leave the room knowing you stood up for yourself and defended your worth.

Cover image via  Sata Production / Shutterstock

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