Career Mentor Newsletter July 2023
By: Jasma Stein, AmeriCorps VISTA
The quarterly Career Mentor Newsletter offers resources, tools, and updates about Vermont Works for Women to mentors in our Career Mentor Network. This month let’s explore how we can support mentees with salary negotiation and the connection between compensation and the Gender Pay Gap.
Women’s Mentorship: Salary Negotiation & Compensation
Setting the Stage: The Gender Pay Gap
Today, the gender pay gap continues to be a considerable barrier to gender equity in the workforce. In fact, earlier this year the Pew Research Center revealed that the gender pay gap hasn’t changed much over the past two decades. Their most recent study of median hourly earnings of women as a percentage of men’s earnings among all U.S. workers ages 16+ found that in 2022, women earned on average 82% of what men earned for the year—only a 2% increase from 2002. So, how has progress in pay stalled so dramatically in the 21st century?
The Pew Research Center observed: “Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time. The pay gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college… This points to the dominant role of other factors that still set women back or give men an advantage.”
The culprit is no secret— deeply engrained gender norms play a pervasive role in shaping women’s economic lives and perpetuating these types of economic disparities between men and women. Today, we call special attention to how gendered inequities around negotiating higher pay may be one such contributing factor for why the gender pay gap endures.
Negotiation Matters for the Gender Pay Gap
Leading feminist economists argue that men make more money than women for performing the same work because of underlying societal norms and gendered expectations embedded in our society. When it comes to negotiating salaries, men similarly tend to receive better economic outcomes from pay negotiations than women. Again, the cause is rooted in different societal expectations between women and men’s behavior.
First off, women tend to underestimate their professional value. A Cornell University study revealed that women consistently underestimate their abilities and performance, while men tended to overestimate both. This “confidence gap” translates to fewer women seeking promotions, raises, and higher starting salaries compared to men. And when women do enter pay negotiations, the cards are already stacked against her.
Salary negotiations are seen as competitive situations that inherently favor men. The behavior considered necessary for successful negotiation—such as assertiveness, self-advocacy, and being profit-oriented—directly conflicts with “feminine traits” and traditional female gender roles.
The Result? Women face more backlash from employers when asking for higher pay or starting salaries/wages. In repeated studies, women were found to have a greater social cost of negotiating for higher pay than men. That is, scientists measured people’s willingness to work with an employee after evaluators saw him or her negotiate and found that evaluators were significantly less inclined to work with the same employee when the employee asking for higher pay was female.
Consequently, women are less likely to enter pay negotiations as an act of self-preservation, and when they do, are less effective in receiving favorable outcomes. Alexandra Mislin, Professor of Management at American University, explains, “women anticipating backlash from attempting to negotiate, ‘hedge their assertiveness, using fewer competing tactics and obtaining lower outcomes.’” Whereas, for men, researchers observed no significant social cost for asking for higher pay. Instead, men are generally rewarded and incentivized to continue negotiating higher pay throughout their careers.
Making Room for Negotiation: How Mentoring Can Help Women Become Better Negotiators
Against the backdrop of the gender pay gap, being able to effectively negotiate higher starting salaries, higher pay, or fair compensation for work, is imperative for improving women’s overall economic attainment and bridging the gender pay gap. Yet, women face unique barriers when it comes to negotiating pay. Since women are socialized to underestimate their professional value, are less likely to enter salary negotiations or ask for a higher starting pay and are discouraged from being assertive, how can we counter these challenges and help other women like your mentees?
Mentoring provides a great opportunity for women to strengthen their negotiating skills and improve their chances for successful negotiation outcomes.
Tips and Tools to Strengthen Your or Your Mentee’s Salary Negotiation Skills
- Assess Your Ask: Different circumstances call for different approaches to negotiating pay. Before entering negotiations, you decide if your “ask” is appropriate, or if you need to adjust course. Ask your mentee:
- Are you negotiating a starting salary? If so, explore whether the compensation package is negotiable or not before entering negotiations.
- Is your job a fixed pay-rate? If so, ask about opportunities for advancement and associated salary/pay increase instead.
- Is your compensation negotiable? If so, how does your employer decide compensation – is it qualifications based? Is there a salary range?
- Do Your Research: Information is power. When going into negotiations, whether it’s for a starting salary or higher compensation, it’s important to know what your bargaining range is. Studies suggest that the more access to information about pay scale women have, the more effective they can be in negotiating higher pay. Quick Tips:
- Find out what the upper and lower limits of pay are for someone with your job or position.
- Use sites like Glassdoor and Payscale to research salaries across companies and see what salary range is in line with the market and is appropriate for your skills, experience, and job title.
- Reference your findings during your negotiations to help justify your “ask”.
- Communicate Strategically: As women, we can employ certain strategies during our negotiations that can position us for better outcomes. Here are few we’ve collected:
- “Think Personally, Act Communally”: Studies show women are more successful when negotiating for others than they are themselves. In fact, women negotiate more assertively when advocating for other people and are even effective in narrowing the gender gap in negotiated outcomes in these situations. Consequently, women may be able to find similar success if in negotiating, they’re able to act as advocates for their organization and use their organization’s needs to legitimize their pay increase.
- Demonstrate Value: Quantify and document your accomplishments to legitimize your request for adjusted compensation. leverage your wins and use this evidence to demonstrate any additional growth or value you’ve shown.
- Don’t Skip on the Small Talk: Studies show that familiarity with an employer may give women an edge to negotiate better outcomes. It may seem trivial, but that chit chat may help reinforce your relationship with an employer and signal trust.
- Practice Negotiating: Across numerous studies, evidence shows that the gap between men and women’s outcomes narrowed as they gained negotiating experience. The results suggest that women tend to shed traditional gender expectations the more time they spend at the bargaining table. You can help mentees build confidence negotiating by providing them opportunities to practice their “ask,” as well by sharing your own tips and tricks.
Utilize VWW’s Build Your Skills Program
VWW recently launched a new online learning portal for Build Your Skills. If you aren’t familiar with Build Your Skills, our Employment & Career Services offer online guides and learning resources to help individuals work towards their career goals. In the past, the Career Mentor Network has shared out our worksheets and “How-To” guides to aid mentors in their mentoring sessions. With this new portal, Build Your Skills helps anyone upskill and advance in their career journey with updated guides, templates, reference materials, and self-paced video tutorials with quizzes.
While Build Your Skills is designed for those seeking career support, the portal can still be a great tool for you as a mentor. By registering for Build Your Skills, you’ll access a map of online learning resources focused on four key areas for career development: (1) Finding the Right Job or Career; (2) Getting the Job; (3) Professional Development; and (4) Financial Empowerment. Each focus area includes topic-related references and flexible activity-based courses created to deepen and complement the user’s learning. You can use the portal yourself to sharpen your own professional skills or use it as a reference to enhance your mentoring experience.