How Women are Breaking the Taboo on Salary Negotiation

A few weeks ago, Janice Gassam’s Forbes article titled “The Biggest Mistakes Women Make When Negotiating Their Salary” touched on a topic that’s come up more than once in my personal and professional circles: salary negotiation. The general facts of the gendered salary gap (which is also impacted by race) are familiar to most of us – women are consistently paid less than men for the same work, and men tend to negotiate their salaries more frequently than women.

However, the reality is that this knowledge alone may not be enough to spark a salary negotiation revolution, especially in such a tumultuous job market. In many offices, discussing pay is openly discouraged, if not outright forbidden. And even if it isn’t, women may often feel like they’re breaking some rule of propriety when they broach the topic with a coworker or supervisor. When you do reach a stage where you need to negotiate your salary or propose a raise, it’s hard to know how to do so, especially if it’s not a conversation you’ve had before. That’s why I appreciated one of the biggest tips presented by the article’s interviewee, Kimberly B. Cummings, founder of Manifest Yourself, LLC:

When it comes to negotiating salary, I think the biggest mistake that many of my clients make and just women in general is not having an action plan when having that conversation. So many times, when the conversation comes, it’s happening at a time where you’re getting your job offer. So, you’re just so excited to get the job offer and they’re like “oh hey, we’re gonna pay you $75,000 per year.” But you know that this role should be paying about $110,000. So, you weren’t prepared to have the conversation when you counter…I think the first step is planning to have that conversation from the beginning, in the same way that you planned for your interviews, and did your research.

Money is generally an uncomfortable topic, but it’s empowering to have a game plan when the topic comes up in interviews. Knowing the employer’s culture and having a script to stick to can help you keep your calm when negotiating an issue that may make you nervous.

Unfortunately, salary negotiation isn’t a cut and dried issue of confidence and planning. As Gassam and Cummings point out, research has indicated that women are more likely to be turned down when asking for raises, and women of color begin at a further wage disadvantage than white women do in the first place.

While there’s no easy solution to the persistent salary gap and stress surrounding salary negotiation, the article also mentions the value of finding support through a network of peers and mentors in your industry. Ultimately, I think that’s my biggest positive takeaway – you are not the first person in the world, or your industry, or even your office to negotiate your salary or ask for a raise. Others likely have gone before you – if not in your position, than in a similar role at a different company. What networks can you leverage to find a mentor who will help develop your script? Overcoming the basic hurdle of literally just knowing what to say when negotiating pay is a huge step all by itself.

The good news is that more and more women like Kimberly Cummings are using their experience and insight to break the taboo surrounding women’s pay. My hope is that as more of us find ourselves in workplaces that are actually putting diversity and inclusion into practice, we will all have mentors who can guide us through our careers – and someday, we’ll be ready to provide that support for our younger colleagues as they enter the workforce. In the meantime, it’s up to us to break the silence and flip the script.