And this is what you can do about it.

Suzannah Weiss
August 28, 2020
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When I graduated from college and started my first few jobs, adults gave me the same advice over and over again: to always negotiate my pay. But taking this advice, as a woman, didn’t always yield the results I wanted. In fact, it sometimes backfired. 

For instance, after I requested a higher salary for a position I was applying for at a San Francisco tech startup (which I did not receive), the CEO drunkenly admitted later on at an office party that his initial reaction to my request was “f*ck that, I have power over you.” When I requested higher pay for a freelance editing job several years later, the client told me she’d “rather just hire another editor than start down the path of negotiating.”

While it’s hard to say whether I would have been received this same way if I were a man, many other women also recall being shamed for negotiating. Carol, 47, tells HelloGiggles that she remembers a man laughing at her when she tried to negotiate her salary for a potential job. Diana, 35, says she was even berated by a female hiring manager for requesting to work from home on Fridays. “She called me and went on a rant: How could I possibly ask to work from home one day?” she remembers. “They were a company that comes into the office from 9 to 6 every day, and that's the expectation, and how could I even ask?”

But receiving criticism from others about negotiating your worth as a woman doesn't just happen in the office. According to Kat, 37, when she tried to negotiate the price of a car, the salesman told her she was “wearing that dress she was wearing on purpose” and that “each dollar she was trying to save took money out of his children's mouths.” However, later on, when her husband offered the same price to the salesman, it was accepted.

Some experts have argued that the wage gap—the difference between men’s and women’s salaries, which is estimated to be around 82 cents to a dollar—stems from women’s reluctance to ask for money. But the truth is that women do negotiate; they’re just not as well received when they do it. One 2018 study, for example, found that women ask for raises just as often as men but that they only get them 15 percent of the time, while men have a 20 percent success rate.

Why is that? It could be that people view women more harshly for advocating for themselves. Another 2006 study found that, when reading descriptions of job candidates who negotiated their salaries, the evaluators judged women more negatively, seeing them as not nice and too demanding. And in the same study, male evaluators penalized the female candidates more than males when they negotiated for more money, whereas the female evaluators judged both genders the same.

“Women are often shamed for negotiating because of the gendered societal norms that we've had for hundreds of years,” explains Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, assistant professor of human communication at California State University. “Women were taught to ‘be good’ and ‘stay quiet.’ The ‘good woman’ prototype has always been a little bit submissive, feminine, doesn't talk back, [and] not an assertive person who negotiates.” 

This can be even more of a hurdle for women of color. “Apart from our female identity, we also have to work against our racial identity dilemma,” Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn explains. “For example, Asians are stereotyped as the ‘good/quiet minority,’ so when we start speaking up, it may be perceived as shocking and out of character. Another example is the ‘angry Black woman’ stereotype: If a Black woman negotiates and her tone becomes passionate, firm, and assertive, it could be perceived as inappropriate or angry.”

So what do you do if this happens to you? If someone challenges you when you try to negotiate, it’s normal to go into a “fight or flight” response—that is to get either angry or scared—because it might feel unfair, says Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn. But, instead, she suggests calmly reminding the other person what you bring to the table using facts and objective information. 

Another effective response if a superior pushes back is to ask questions, like "When will you have the budget?" or "What can we do to find a solution?" says negotiation expert Fotini Iconomopoulos. “If they give you vague feedback like ‘You need to prove yourself first,’ ask ‘What does that look like? What milestones do you need to see? When would be a good time to pick up this conversation?’"

And don’t let negative views around women who negotiate stop you from doing it. In fact, you should probably ask for even more than you think you should because of this, says Christine McKay, global negotiation strategist and CEO and founder of Venn Negotiation.

“As women, we often have a difficult time doing this,” she explains. “We’ve been conditioned not to ask for more than our fair share. The problem is, more often than not, what we’ve been told is our ‘fair share’ is less than our male counterparts. If we don’t ask for more of what we want, we’ll always be settling. To do this, though, we have to first negotiate with ourselves.” 

McKay recommends doing research on competitors so that you can be confident about the amount you’re asking for. She also suggests taking notes on any specific items in the negotiation so that the other person can be held accountable for what they’ve offered. If you’re able, it’s important to be willing to walk away if you feel undervalued, bullied, or taken advantage of, she adds.

While there are ways to become a better negotiator, remember that it should not be all on you. You deserve coworkers and superiors who will support you and empower you to advocate for what you want in your career and in your life. Period.