Ending salary negotiations has been discussed lately as a way to help narrow the gender wage gap. The idea is that, if women are not as good at men at negotiating, or are penalized for asking for a raise, then just end the process altogether with a transparent, systematic, salary structure.
A lot of pieces to this puzzle are not typically addressed in the argument — the idea of market forces setting a price (or a wage), the challenges in setting a standardized scale when people bring different value to a job, the issue of the incentive a pay raise can provide people. If you really want to go down that road, all sorts of questions arise about economic systems, human nature and potential, etc. It’s a long road!
But there is another route I would like to take on this one. I absolutely see the disadvantages women face around salary negotiations. The hardest one for sure is the one you can’t control — will you be perceived negatively as a woman if you ask for a raise. According to an article in the New York Times last year, intentional — or unintentional — discrimination can impact women who speak up for themselves. According to the article, “As a result, women need to take a more calibrated approach, whether in asking for a higher salary or a new position. Otherwise, they can risk being perceived as overly demanding and unlikable, experts say, and their requests can backfire.”
Let’s take a look at the other side — the benefits to women in learning to ask for a raise. We had a great Washington Post Letter to the Editor on our Facebook page last week, that deserves further highlighting. The letter pointed out that by learning how to negotiate a salary, women are empowered “to make a case for their accomplishments, articulate their self-worth, and assume agency and power in the interview process or performance review.”
I work with women and girls of all ages, and there is a clear point in adolescence when some girls decide that talking positively about themselves, or even standing up for themselves, is “bragging” and needs to stop if the girl is going to be liked, popular, accepted. This socialized behavior can be lauded and reinforced by people and systems, and it may not end when girls become women. In fact, according to a 2008 Carnegie Mellon University salary survey, women ask for raises or promotions 85% less often then men.
So while salary negotiations are an imperfect process, learning how to negotiate and advocate on behalf of oneself has enormous benefits, both in terms of economic power, but in acknowledging one’s own worth and strengths. This process can become a muscle that is strengthened over time, until it becomes instinct. But it may require some exercise — like learning how to negotiate salaries and raises — to help some women learn how to articulate their value.