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6 Steps for Women Who Deserve a Raise

Pay raiseOne of the continuing inequities in the American workforce is the paygap between women and men. Even though women, on average, tend to be better educated than men, those women who work full time only earn about 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. I suppose it’s good news that the figure has gone up 2 cents since 2010.

FYI: To my amusement I’ve learned that a few women get frustrated by a man writing about this, but I have plenty of reasons, not least three daughters, who are professionals, as was my now deceased wife. At different times in their marriage all four made more than their husbands. (Furthermore, it’s important to take truth wherever you can get it.) Although I’ve consulted to numerous female execs over the years, a dozen or so years ago, one client from among the top paid executives in America was especially instructive about the issue of male consultants working for female execs. I asked her why she wanted to work with a man. Her response? “The image of me working with a male consultant has much more cachet than working with a woman.” Of course, she tossed me a bone: “Besides, you’re more knowledgable than any women I know in the consulting business.” I hope that by now all of that has changed.

In 2010 the NYTimes had a superb report by Tara Bernard on the research of Hannah Riley Bowles, prof at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government about getting the merit raise you eserve. My review of the article follows, but with additional personal insights.

Bowles research is not at all quirky since Harvard has a long history of negotiation research in governmental, legal and business settings. The essential conclusion of Bowles’ study is that “if a man and woman both attempt to negotiate for higher pay, people find a woman who does this, compared to one who does not, significantly less attractive. Whereas with the guy, it doesn’t seem to matter.”

What’s going on here, and what can women do about it?

Bowles suggests that women should frame their requests in ways that won’t undermine their relationship with the boss. So, you ask, do we succumb to the stereotype, or focus on the ends justifying the means? Your call.

First, two facts help explain the problem: people associate men with higher pay because men tend to hold higher paying and higher level positions, and women are more likely to leave the workforce to care for children, so they end up with fewer years of experience. Still, when all of those issues are factored into the difference, about 40% of the gap is unexplained.

Other research on gender and negotiation suggests that part of the issue can be tied to the negotiating process itself. Bowles and her colleagues suggest six important steps for better pay success:

Get proactive. When you deserve a raise, don’t sit around and wait for someone to notice. I often counsel both men and women that more than 50% of the time your boss won’t know about your contributions unless you tell him. That means that self-advocacy (get familiar with that skill and learn how to go about it) is an imperative in the 21st century. That also includes consideration of the best timing to approach your boss. One of the best ways to do that is through a weekly update, making certain that your boss is aware of your contributions.

Do your research. That will pay, literally. Know what other people are receiving for a position and task. Search out the pay websites such as payscale.com and salary.com to uncover salaries for comparable positions in your area. I’ve neglected one significant insight from Bowle’s research. When you talk to peers, talk to men in your network, and don’t get caught comparing your salary to other women. I regularly remind clients that solid research shows that the quality of your network is terrifically important. People with a quality network both within and outside their organizations get promotions earlier, have more opportunities and get higher pay. (One related blog: Who should be in my work network?)

Anticipate objections. This can be a difficult one. Once you start the process the responses are going to be reactive, so identify as many potential objections as possible and think through your responses to each of them. If you have little background in negotiation, now’s the time to start adding to your skill base. Start with Fisher and Ury’s bestseller, Getting to Yes. Once you’ve gotten that down pat, pick up Negotiation Genius, by Malhotra and Bazerman. For insight on anticipating objections, focus on chapter 3, Investigative negotiation, and chapter 13, When Not to negotiate. Anything by Bazerman on negotiation is worth its weight in gold.

Negotiate at home. This is an intriguing piece of advice by Bowles. Think about how a raise might affect your life at home. Women still carry a disproportionate load of household chores. So, try to re-examine some of those roles, and think through how that might affect each partner’s work situation. Then re-negotiate those work responsibilities and relations. As one writer says, the big secret in the American culture is that negotiating at home may be more challenging than at work. Your workplace is probably more gender neutral than your home.

Negotiate strategically. Here’s where women need to use a different strategy than men. Bowles’ research shows that if women explain why their request is appropriate and that they care about maintaining good relationships at work, and do it in an authentic way, they’ll be more successful. Be very careful about manipulating outside offers to support your request. They backfire more for women than for men. I’ve found that in the better firms, it’s rare for an exec to be responsive to an employee who asks for a raise based on outside offers. They’re going to have to be extremely valuable for that to work. Indeed, I’m aware of some instances in which the person was let go for making an outside offer part of his/her case.

Negotiate creatively. Although the younger generation of men are more and more factoring family responsibilities into the mix, women, especially, may want such things as more flex time or working from home. Think through all your needs and your bosses’. That should be a major piece of the negotiating mix.

When things get tough, remember that approaching the negotiating process from the perspective of soft skills (the relationship skills) is far more successful than from the hard (the money). Best wishes.

NYTimes: A Toolkit for Women Seeking a Raise, by Tara Siegel Bernard, Saturday, May 15, 2010.

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