I heard a story on NPR’s Planet Money not too long ago about how women negotiators often undervalue themselves when negotiating salaries (“Why Women Don’t Ask for More Money” April 8, 2014, see http://kunm.org/post/why-women-dont-ask-more-money). I’ve read the research that shows men bargain harder for their salaries (and usually get it); some use that data to explain away historic gender pay inequities in the workplace. I’ve also read that women are fierce when they negotiate on behalf of others, but are afraid to bargain too hard for themselves, for fear they might harm their reputations. Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In essentially reinforces that point: “The goal of successful negotiation is to achieve our objectives and continue to have people like us.” [Sandberg 2012, p. 47 (emphasis mine)]

What?! Women are uncomfortable being paid an equitable salary because they’re afraid people won’t like them if they negotiate too hard? Yes, that’s what the research supports. Is that true of all women –and men who “think” like women– even women who are assertive in their negotiation style? The research is unclear on that point. But it doesn’t matter. In my soon to be published book, The Transformative Negotiator, I take issue with the entire premise. Having people “like you” is not a relevant factor in negotiation, which is not a popularity contest. And value is (or should be) gender-blind.

But back to our NPR story. As I’m driving East across the Rio Grande to work, I hear something that almost makes me pull off the road:

“….But Maggie Neale of Stanford Business School says there are ways around this discomfort. For one thing, she says, women can use their ability to fight for others for their own ends. When you’re negotiating a raise, she says, think of the other people your salary is supporting so the negotiation doesn’t seem like it’s all about you.”

“No,” I shout at the radio, that’s not right. I do recognize the advice as a nifty piece of reframing, to broaden a negotiator’s perspective, which can be useful in the right circumstances. But men don’t think that way. And what message does it send to women who are single professionals? That it’s okay to settle for less– not to negotiate the salary you deserve– because you don’t have a family or kids to support?

Here’s my advice for any negotiator, male or female, who is afraid to negotiate salary. Be prepared for the negotiation and do your homework: uncover the comparables for your job and the pay. You wouldn’t make an offer on a house (or price one for sale) without checking those comps. Make your offer, and if the response is, it’s too high, don’t simply accept it; make sure your employer explains why that is. Is it your lack of experience? Then say you’ll agree to take less to start, with a written understanding that you will be evaluated for a raise and/or promotion after a certain time period (6 months). Is it an equity grid? Then ask them for a copy of their policy, make sure that you’re being credited for all your relevant years of experience, and that you understand how raises will work in the future.

All things being equal, your salary should represent fair market value for your services, even if you decide later in the negotiations to accept less money as a trade-off for better benefits or more time off.

And my advice specifically to women negotiators: Wake up! it is all about you.

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Michele Huff, J.D. is an intellectual property and technology licensing practitioner. She is a speaker on the topic of negotiation and is author of The Transformative Negotiator publishing April 2015. After 20+ years working with Fortune 500 companies in the Silicon Valley, she is currently at the University of New Mexico supporting their research mission by facilitating industry relationships with research-active faculty, and managing and motivating teams in the legal department and the office of sponsored projects. She was recently honored as one of 30 recipients of the 2014 Women of Influence award by the  Albuquerque Business First. Read more here.  

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