Cool: NYT discovers women can take individual action to improve their own pay

First, let’s put aside my feelings about the “Pay Gap” as a political discussion, in general. It probably goes without saying to you guys that I view the 77-cents stat with skepticism, think there are plenty of things other than sex discrimination that affect women’s salaries, and note that there’s not much attention paid to the gap, such that it is, disappearing.


That being said, if there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it. Check out the hook, etc. One of the things I know about myself and my women friends, and from men and women in the hiring business, is that women are not particularly great at negotiating their own salaries. Often, women don’t even know they can negotiate.

This anecdote, from a 2007 Washington Post story on gender differences in negotiations encapsulates my anecdotal experience pretty well:

About 10 years ago, a group of graduate students lodged a complaint with Linda C. Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University: All their male counterparts in the university’s PhD program were teaching courses on their own, whereas the women were working only as teaching assistants.

That mattered, because doctoral students who teach their own classes get more experience and look better prepared when it comes time to go on the job market.

When Babcock took the complaint to her boss, she learned there was a very simple explanation: “The dean said each of the guys had come to him and said, ‘I want to teach a course,’ and none of the women had done that,” she said. “The female students had expected someone to send around an e-mail saying, ‘Who wants to teach?’ ” The incident prompted Babcock to start systematically studying gender differences when it comes to asking for pay raises, resources or promotions. And what she found was that men and women are indeed often different when it comes to opening negotiations.


I’ve heard stories from liberal men and women in good standing, who are in charge of hiring at their businesses or non-profits. They lament that, if they have a budget allowance for a particular position, women often ask for the low end of that window or even below it, while men shoot much higher and end up at the higher end. If there’s a window of fair salaries and you’re running a business, you don’t have an obligation to hand over the top end of that window without even being asked. One’s ability to research salaries, pitch one’s worth, and confidently ask for an amount dictates her positioning within the window, and can even stretch it beyond what a company had envisioned to begin with.

Every encounter is a chance to break a window if not a glass ceiling, ladies.

I talk about this every chance I get with young women. I address college groups and political groups and intern groups. Whenever we turn to Q&A, I am the unseemly one who brings up pay negotiations. Because overcoming the social anxiety associated with challenging an authority figure in such a situation can often do way more for your career than just staying positive and reaching for the stars. It also can feel pretty damn good to know you can take some control over the situation.

I’d argue that doing that for yourself is far more empowering and efficient than waiting for Congress to do it for you. Imagine if negotiating tips got as much national ink as the Lilly Ledbetter Act. That’s why I’m glad to see the Grey Lady tackling this subject. A fair female reporter, Jessica Bennett, reflects on her own past experiences while reporting on a workshop in which women learn negotiating tactics:


I grew up in the Girl Power moment of the 1980s, outpacing my male peers in school and taking on extracurricular activities by the dozen. I soared through high school and was accepted to the college of my choice. And yet, when I landed in the workplace, it seemed that I’d had a particularly rosy view.

When I was hired as a reporter at Newsweek, I took the first salary number that was offered; I felt lucky to be getting a job at all.

But a few years in, by virtue of much office whispering and a few pointed questions, I realized that the men around me were making more than I was, and more than many of my female colleagues. Despite a landmark sex discrimination lawsuit filed against the magazine in 1970, which paved the way for women there and at other publications to become writers, we still had a long way to go, it turned out.

When I tried to figure out why my salary was comparatively lower, it occurred to me: couldn’t I have simply asked for more? The problem was that I was terrified at the prospect. When I finally mustered up the nerve, I made my pitch clumsily, my voice shaking and my face beet red. I brought along a printed list of my accomplishments, yet I couldn’t help but feel boastful saying them out loud. While waiting to hear whether I would get the raise (I did), I agonized over whether I should have asked at all.

This fear of asking is a problem for many women: we are great advocates for others, but paralyzed when it comes to doing it for ourselves.

Studies show, by taking the first number offered at your early jobs, you diminish your earning potential significantly, over a lifetime. This is again from 2007, but the Carnegie Mellon research is still relevant and cited, and this states it succinctly:


If a 22-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman are offered $25,000 for their first job, for example, and one of them negotiates the amount up to $30,000, then over the next 28 years, the negotiator would make $361,171 more, assuming they both got 3 percent raises each year. And this is without taking into account the fact that the negotiators don’t just get better starting pay; they also win bigger raises over the course of their careers.

The workshops featured in the New York Times piece has quite a bit of content about the wage gap, but the great stuff is the basic negotiating tips— make them offer a number first, don’t volunteer that you made $25K at your last job, don’t say yes right away, etc. I assume Ms. Houle, who runs the workshops, and I are likely on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but she is speaking my language:

“I can’t tell you how many times I hear stories of women who go into a negotiation saying, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much, I’ll take it!’” says Ms. Houle, noting that one student she coached even hugged her boss. “Here these women are, more educated than ever, incurring incredible debt to get that education, and they’re going to take whatever they’re offered. It’s like, ‘No, no, no!’ “

There are a lot of reasons fewer women negotiate than men do. There’s a fear of rejection, genuine ignorance that they’re allowed to negotiate, and there can be fear that one will be judged more harshly than a man would be for negotiating in the same situation. There’s some evidence to suggest that, yes, men can negotiate without having to worry as much about their tone and demeanor.


“What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

In this study, Bowles and her colleagues divided 119 volunteers at random into different groups and provided them with descriptions of male or female candidates who tried to negotiate a higher starting salary for a hypothetical job, along with descriptions of applicants who accepted the offered salary. The volunteers were asked to decide whether they would hire the candidates — who were all described as exceptionally talented and qualified. While both men and women were penalized for negotiating, Bowles found that the negative effect for women was more than twice as large as that for men.

A couple things about that. I don’t doubt that this phenomenon exists. The good news is making women negotiating the new normal can change perceptions of it, thereby encouraging more negotiating and allowing the good cycle to continue. And, with women outnumbering men on college campuses, taking issue with women who negotiate will get more and more detrimental to doing business.

The discrepancy is unfair, but learning to deal with it is a reality, and a great negotiating skill. Why? Because all negotiating requires, not just aggression, but social IQ. Knowing what you’re worth, whether anyone else agrees, who you’re dealing with, and how that affects where to push is what it’s all about. Such cues can also tell you when not to push too hard. For instance when you get the unenviable feeling many current college grads are getting: “Hm, the economy is really bad. There are a thousand other resumes in that pile. Maybe I shouldn’t bluff my way into oblivion.” There’s a Carnegie Mellon academy for negotiating mentioned in the article that I’d, erm, attempt to negotiate the price down on.


I have a group of close friends and family who help me make career decisions. I have a great friend who negotiates for a living, and grabs my helmet, pumps me up, and in the past, has sent me onto the field ready to go. I’m no expert, but it’s just a great life skill to get yourself comfortable with a bit of haggling, man or woman. When I talk to young women about their careers, I’m not telling them to go all mergers and acquisitions on everyone, but doing some basic research and knowing basic skills can be a beautiful, powerful thing for beautiful, powerful women. It’s fun to see them get a twinkle in their eyes when they realize that.

Exit question (Allahpundit™): How long before we come full circle and have to start targeting these seminars to young men?

The good news is that all of these things can be learned. In 2003, when Professor Babcock was conducting research for her book, she surveyed Carnegie Mellon graduates of the management school, determining that 13 percent of women had negotiated the salaries in the jobs they’d accepted, versus 52 percent of men. Four years later, after a lengthy book tour and talking relentlessly about these issues on campus, she found that the numbers had flipped: 68 percent of women negotiated, versus 65 percent of men.

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