It was my first meeting with a new potential client, and they tossed out a number. It was a good number, but I recently vowed to negotiate more. So I threw out a higher number, then held my breath through the awkward silence. I hate the anxiety-ridden, nerve-wracking process of negotiating, but here’s why I’ve learned to embrace it despite the fact.

Why Negotiating Is Trickier for Women

While the wage gap has narrowed quite a bit since 1963, the year the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women, especially women of color, still earn less than men. We’ve come a long way since the ‘60s, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially considering some people actually believe the gap is a myth.

The question of whether or not women negotiate isn’t as relevant as the question of what happens when we do negotiate.

The Equal Pay issue is complex and the reasons the wage gap exists are complicated. For example, some argue that women are paid less because they don’t negotiate. Women just don’t ask, they say. Some stats show that’s true and others stats show it’s false. The problem is, the question of whether or not women negotiate isn’t as relevant as the question of what happens when we do negotiate.

According to Harvard Business Review, this is what happens:

In repeated studies, the social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men.

And here’s another thing that happens, according to a study from Cass Business School, the University of Warwick and the University of Wisconsin:

…women ask for wage rises just as often as men, but men are 25 per cent more likely to get a raise when they ask.

First, not only are women perceived more negatively than men when they negotiate—men are seen as confident and powerful, whereas women are seen as difficult—they also get what they want less often than men.

Suddenly, the “myth” doesn’t seem so busted.

Traits of Women Who Are Underpaid

I always understood the wage gap issue from afar, but it didn’t really hit home on a personal level until I read Barbara Stanny’s Secrets of Six-Figure Women. Despite the initial “As Seen on TV” feel of the title, the book offers some major insight on how women handle money.

Stanny interviewed 150 women for her book and found that those who earned less shared a handful of traits, chief among them being that they avoid negotiating. Here are a few traits of women who were chronically underpaid:

  • They have a high tolerance for low pay: They know they could probably earn more money, but they accept a lower wage. They might even try to justify it.
  • They undervalue their worth: They assume they’ll never be paid well. For example, I always told myself, “Writers aren’t supposed to make a lot of money, so this crap salary is fine. I’m not in it for the money.”
  • They’re willing to work for free: There’s a case to be made for working for free, but underearners don’t think twice about it.
  • They hate negotiating: They’re reluctant to ask for more money and they’re scared of what might happen if they do. For example, I was always terrified that if I asked for more, the other party would be offended and rescind the offer altogether.
  • They believe poverty is noble: They think being poor gives you access to a certain sense of morality, and money is evil. This hit home so much. I grew up poor and always assumed rich people were greedy. I even wrote a post on how I “romanticized poverty.”

Of course, these traits can obviously apply to men, too, but Stanny specifically interviewed women to compile this list. It’s also easy to see why women might undervalue themselves professionally. All you have to do is entertain those myth-busting arguments, the worst of which resort to the argument that women simply aren’t as smart or as qualified as men.

Stats aside, if you want to earn more, negotiating is a necessary part of the process. Like I said, I hate negotiating. I’m not confrontational or assertive. I’ve always hated the idea of being difficult.

Negotiating is trickier for women. I started to feel like I should negotiate more because of that fact, not just in spite of it.

But after reading about the issue, especially Stanny’s research, I started to look at negotiating as not just a way to increase my own earning potential but also as a microcosmic way to protest a larger, systematic issue. In other words, negotiating is trickier for women; I started to feel like I should negotiate more because of that fact, not just in spite of it.

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