Women earn less than men for the same work. But could some of that be our own fault for not negotiating pay?
Every year, it seems, another study is released showing that there is a wage gap between men and women. Women still make less than men — even in some cases where experience and education are mostly equal. And, while there is probably an underlying culture of discrimination that goes into this reality, it’s not entirely the fault of “the system.”
In some cases, says Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women can Change How We Think About Power, women are leaving $500,000 on the table over their lifetimes because they don’t negotiate.
“Women tend to devalue themselves and their accomplishments. The fact that many women don’t toot their own horns, and don’t negotiate their entry-level salaries, can cost them half a million dollars over a lifetime,” Feldt tells me.
That’s a lot of money. Feldt points out that the entry salary is an important starting point, and many women don’t negotiate it. Additionally, they fail to negotiate higher salaries and promotions throughout their careers, and it can cost big. “My father told me, ‘She who asks, gets,’” Feldts continues. “Too many women assume that they can’t ask.”
Instead, Feldt recommends that women negotiate their salaries up front. Study after study shows that men are more willing to negotiate salaries, ask for promotions, and actively seek opportunities. Part of the reason that there is a wage gap, Feldt contends, is that women aren’t stepping into their power and recognizing their own value.
Want to Be Paid More? Ask for More Money
I can relate. I spent a lot of my freelance writing career taking low-paying jobs. Only recently did I begin asking for more pay. At first, I didn’t even negotiate. Now, though, I name my price, and clients go from there. And, if someone offers me an amount I don’t agree with, I negotiate higher — or walk away.
However, one of the stories Feldt shares in her book really resonated with me. The story of James Chartrand, the successful writer behind the site Men with Pens, really hit home. Chartrand, some of you might know, is actually the pen name of a woman writer. She was “outed” a couple of years ago, and shared her story of how instant acceptance and higher pay came when she adopted her male pen name. It shows that there is still some underlying bias in terms of men vs. women in the workplace.
But, perhaps some of that bias would go away if more women were willing to ask for more money. Women are more likely to find themselves with fewer financial resources than men over their lifetimes, and part of the blame for that has to be taken by women who don’t ask for more.
Feldt says that understanding your worth is the most important part of your salary negotiation. (I’d say this holds true for men as well as for women.) “Part of the reason that women earn less is that they don’t negotiate that first salary. That sets a pattern of under-earning for the rest of their lives. You need to know what you’re worth.”
“If you know what you’re worth,” she continues, “and you can demonstrate it, you can ask for more money.” Take the time to understand your worth, and document it by showing what you’ve accomplished. Then, you can walk into that room confident. “When you understand what you’re worth, you can go in well-prepared, and ready to say, ‘This is my value. This is what I want.’”
Feldt then recommends that you shut up and let the others in the room respond. Of course, you still have to understand that a salary negotiation is just that: A negotiation. “You might not get everything you ask for,” Feldt points out, “but you will probably get more than you would have if you hadn’t asked. Move beyond the fear of rejection, and the likelihood is that you will get something.”
In the end, you can moan about the unfairness of the situation, or you can do something. Gloria Feldt, in her book, argues that now is the time for women to ask for what they want, and to use their voices. Yes, there are injustices in the world. But simply complaining about how unfair the wage gap is won’t change things. You can be part of the change by actually doing what men have been doing for centuries: Asking for what you want, based on what you feel you are worth. “Recognize what you’re worth,” Feldt says, “speak up for yourself.”
You could be $500,000 richer at the end of your life.