The art of negotiating (from a woman’s perspective)

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple graduation cap emoji, in front of a light blue triangle shape in the top right corner of the image

When I first left university, I couldn’t find a job. I’d learnt many new skills whilst studying at a tertiary level, but talking about myself and what value I might bring to a professional role wasn’t one of them. I sidestepped, took whatever jobs I could find. Two years of hustling in all kinds of strange places – property styling, bartending, consumer research, absolutely everything in small family businesses – and I met people, did things. Had stories to tell. I got the first professional role I applied for.

I was excited. When they asked me what salary I expected, I didn’t really understand what was happening. I’d lived in a world of hourly wages, where award rates existed to guide me. I’d already gotten the job, but what if they didn’t like my answer and took it all away from me? I lowballed myself, and they agreed to pay me an extremely low wage.

Negotiation had never been spoken about during my rather expensive university education. I’d heard of soft skills, the importance of being ‘well rounded’. I knew of the gender pay gap, but nothing on how to negotiate, or why it is an inbuilt part of our work culture. I still haven’t figured out the second part, but with Harvard Law School finding that the gender gap in negotiation may partially explain wage gap, I kinda wish it wasn’t:

“In many cultures, girls are encouraged and expected to be accommodating, concerned with the welfare of others, and relationship oriented from an early age. Notably, these goals clash with the more assertive behaviours considered to be essential for negotiation success, which are more in line with societal expectations that boys and men be competitive, assertive, and profit oriented”.

The difference is particularly striking in starting salaries, where  “7% of women attempted to negotiate, while 57% of men did” (Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock).

If you’re a woman, or a man who is not particularly assertive, the data shows you’re probably missing out on a piece of the pie. So how to combat that?

Seek help

Firstly, the gap between men and women’s outcomes narrowed as they gained negotiating experience (Harvard Law School). Women in particular benefit from negotiation training and experience. So looking out for workshops and professional training is worthwhile.

Arm yourself with research

A good starting point is to work out what other people in your industry, or similar positions, are getting paid. Find out the industry standard salary range, and check out what companies are offering in role postings.  

Know what you need

Know how much you want and why. Use what you’ve learned about similar roles and market rates to justify your requested salary, rather than pushing for an arbitrary salary figure.You might need to sell your employer on why you deserve the amount you’ve asked for, so be ready to defend your position. Did you study to be qualified for this position? If so, perhaps you’re paying off student loans. What about long or expensive commutes, or even changing cities for a new role?

Negotiating salary can also be an opportunity to discuss other conditions – what about study leave or extra annual? Less hours? Professional development opportunities?

If you’re a woman, stand up for others

Be an agent for your organisation or team. Women negotiate more assertively for other individuals, such as their employees, than they do for themselves. Women may be able to avoid a social backlash and narrow this gap by viewing themselves as advocates for their organisations and pointing to their organisation’s needs during negotiations, “Here are the resources I/my team need to be effective.”

Since my first professional role, I’ve negotiated higher salaries, but am yet to negotiate other conditions, such as study leave or less hours. What’s your experience negotiating for money or other conditions?