The first time I negotiated my salary was eight years into my career and it was by accident. I was quitting my job at Coca-Cola Enterprises and they countered to get me to stay. It was a good offer, so I told the new company, Moviefone, I was thinking about staying. Then, Moviefone offered me even more money! After this enlightening experience, I realized that salary negotiations are par for the course and I could have negotiated right from the beginning based on my own merits — I didn’t need a counteroffer. But like most young women, I didn’t have the confidence or understanding to negotiate for myself.
At the core, women do not like to advocate for themselves. They’re afraid they’ll come across as aggressive, pushy, or even greedy. Plus, women tend to undervalue themselves. Going to bat for someone else? We are great at that — studies show that women will gladly ask for more for another colleague, but we fall short when tasked with asking for better pay or benefits for ourselves. One of the most important things women can do to close the gender pay gap is to ask for a raise and start earning what they deserve.
As an author, there’s nothing better than hearing first-hand accounts of how the advice in your book helped a reader in their career path. A few months ago, one woman asked me how to negotiate for more money in a complicated work situation (read her story here); I’m happy to report she took the advice and succeeded. Now, I’ve talked to even more women who followed the tips in my book, The Myth of the Nice Girl, on negotiating with empathy. Here’s what they did — I hope it inspires you to do the same.
Tip # 1: Know Your Worth
An effective way to build your confidence is to determine your market value and what you bring to the table, whether that’s new business, employee morale, or saving the company the cost of recruiting someone new. Lisa*, a lawyer with more than 13 years experience, was recruited for a great opportunity at a new firm. She was excited about the position and the firm's culture, but the first offer presented to her was drastically lower than she had expected. Rather than be discouraged by the starting number, she got ready to negotiate. First, she got clear about her own value and the fact that she brings years of practical legal skills and a desire to help other women advance professionally (which has led to an impressive network of high-achieving women). Next, Lisa took the time to calculate the value of her portable book of business to help the firm understand what her client portfolio would look like on day one and to show the potential for real growth.
The more data you can gather and present, the stronger your case. Sue, a product manager, knew what it would cost to replace her. She reached out to fellow product managers, as well as researched on Glassdoor, Women in Product, and LinkedIn to find salary comparisons. She also gathered examples of the work she had done over the last couple of months and quotes from colleagues to support how valuable she was to the team. “I knew my worth and showed it to them,” Sue says, and, in the end, negotiated a significant raise that put her at market rate.
Tip # 2: Focus on the Mutual Benefits
Great deals are made when both parties feel like they’ve won. Studies have shown that when women negotiate with an eye toward what is best for the organization in addition to what is best for themselves, they have a better chance of success. Knowing that the company’s key desire was to gain new business, Lisa focused her negotiation conversation on her track record in building new business and her prowess as a relationship-builder when discussing her deep network of contacts. But she also made it clear that she wanted to feel good about the compensation to take the leap to a new firm.
Throughout the negotiations, her mantra was “I’d love to find a way to make this work” and after a few meetings, she achieved exactly what she wanted. She had reiterated what she brought to the table, her goals to drive new business to the firm, and how she thought she could get there. She was willing to walk away, if necessary. Now, Lisa says, “I am a partner at an incredible law firm and I feel valued both by my colleagues and my paycheck. And, let's be real, that matters, too!”
Tip #3: Time it Right
Your empathy is a great asset when determining the right moment to ask for what you deserve. When will your boss feel most accepting of the discussion? Caroline, an assistant to a music executive, researched her market value, practiced her talking points, and asked for a meeting at the right time. She knew that her boss was more open in the morning as well as toward the end of a work week. She asked to schedule her annual review in that time frame. Her preparation and timing worked to her benefit: during her review, Caroline presented the facts and secured a 14% salary increase.
No matter who your boss is, it’s always a good time to ask if you’ve recently had a big, high-profile win at work — or if the company has hit a major milestone. After her company closed a round of funding, Sue asked the CEO for a meeting to discuss her performance and future so they both could come prepared. She seized the moment where there was a lot of momentum and it paid off.
Tip #4: Know You’re Worth It
Know you’re not alone — most people are nervous when they walk into a negotiation. “When I thought about asking for a raise I was terrified,” Caroline says. “I needed to find the confidence to get over my nerves to ask for what I want.” Negotiation can feel like this crazy difficult task, but remind yourself that it happens all the time and if you act professionally, you will walk away with your head held high no matter the result. “The main thing that resonated with me from The Myth of the Nice Girl was it made me feel that I simply wasn't crazy for asking for a raise,” said Caroline. “Your words helped me convince myself that I deserved it.” And you do. We all do.
*Names have been changed.