Lecture teaches women to negotiate fair pay

Saturday, April 14, 2012 | 4:30 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — On average, female college graduates will earn $1 million less during their careers than their male counterparts.

And that's not because women are less qualified. A woman and man who have earned the same degree still experience the wage gap.

The Start Smart lecture held Saturday morning at Jesse Wrench Auditorium at MU examined how this difference in wages occurs and how women can negotiate their salaries in a professional way.

The lecture was sponsored by the MU affiliate of the American Association of University Women. This student organization is part of the national organization that partners with the Women Are Getting Even Project.  

Julie Drury, who moderated the lecture, thinks that learning to negotiate pay is important because women are programmed to take what they can get from a job offer. She said that while it is OK to be grateful for a job opportunity, it is also OK to ask for higher pay or more benefits in a positive way.

As an example, Drury shared her experience of obtaining her first job out of graduate school. She said that she was so excited to get the job that she accepted immediately. No one had a conversation with her about how to negotiate her salary, she said.

Drury said that if she could do it over, she still would have accepted the job but would have at least taken 24 hours to think it over. She said the extra time makes a huge difference — it helps remove emotion from the decision and allows for clearer thinking.

Waiting a day or two to think about negotiating pay before accepting a job offer could set the standard for all the pay a person will receive in the future.

How the gap starts

During the presentation, Drury explained where the $1 million wage gap comes from.

Take a man and a woman of equal education who obtain the same job. If the man is initially offered a higher salary and the woman does not negotiate her pay to equal the man's salary, she might never catch up financially. Even if the difference is only a few thousand dollars, it can add up to $1 million over an entire career.

This happens because there is a gap between the initial salaries, and then additional bonuses and raises, which can be based off of salaries, increase that gap. Gender bias and stereotyping can also increase the difference in salaries, Drury said.

While a man might be described in "valued" terms, such as driven, on a performance review by an employer, a woman might be described in "unvalued" terms, such as steady, which can affect who gets promoted and ultimately, who gets a pay raise.

Gender stereotypes might also be present, Drury explained. While a man might be offered a raise because he has a family to take care of, a woman who is starting a family might be passed over for a raise because it is assumed her new priority will be her children instead of the company.

This is where Drury said negotiation comes into play. By going into a job offer with the knowledge of what the standard pay rate is, what her skills are worth, and what she is willing or not willing to accept, a woman has a better chance of receiving a more appropriate salary that is equal to male workers.

"Think, 'That's not happening to me. I want my million dollars'," Drury said. 

Research a job's worth

A person cannot expect to receive appropriate pay without doing research before accepting a job offer. Drury said the first thing to do is research the job title and then find the salary range for that job. This can be done on the WAGE Project website with Salary Wizard.

Lauryn Stallings, a journalism student at MU, said she thought Salary Wizard was the most useful thing that she learned about at the lecture. She said it was especially helpful when trying to assess different jobs in different places.

Once a job applicant knows what job he or she is interested in, Drury explained, then hat person must find the target salary, or an ideal but realistic salary, that balances the value of skills and experience with the typical pay of people in that field. It is also important to consider job benefits and their value.

Finally, a job applicant should develop a budget to calculate the minimum salary he or she will need. If an offered salary is below minimum salary needs, and the employer will not raise the amount, a job applicant should prepared to walk away.

"You have to decide what your tipping point is," Drury said. "You have to figure out what works for you and what you're willing to accept."

How to negotiate

A salary negotiation is a discussion about an employee's qualifications and an employers needs. To negotiate properly, Drury described some best practices.

  • Don't make demands. Potential employees need to balance their target salary with their minimum salary. An employer might not be able to give the maximum amount of pay, but stay positive and be flexible in the negotiations.
  • Never be the first to name a salary figure, before or after receiving an offer. Leave questions about desired salary blank on an application. If asked, say that salary is negotiable. If pressed, bring your answer back to your research, and say what the salary range is, then ask what you are being offered.
  • You are your best advocate, so sell yourself. Tell potential employers about past experiences and what you can contribute to the company. However, do not over-share. Do not talk about student loans or the car you desperately need.

However, if the first offer is above the target salary, Drury said it's OK to still negotiate.

"Heck yeah, keep going up," Drury said. 

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