4 Negotiating Strategies That Can Narrow Your Pay Gap

Businesswoman negotiating salary
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You’ve heard all about the gender pay gap in the US, and can probably recite the statistics in your sleep—particularly the 79 cents on the dollar that women earn compared to their male peers.

We’re not about to try and solve the national pay gap. But what we can show you is how to narrow your personal pay gap. Here’s what you need to know, say, and do to earn more money.

What You Need to Know

“The very first thing you need to know is how much you’re worth and how much a man in an equivalent position is worth,” says Alison Doyle, Job Search expert for The Balance.

You can start by going to Glassdoor.com, Payscale.com, Indeed.com and other salary sites to get a sense of what salaries are like for jobs you are looking at. But know that those numbers—because they’re based on the average salaries of both men and women—are going to be low. You want to aim for the average of men, so take the numbers you find and increase them by a good 25%.

Human resources and job boards may also be a good source of information, Doyle notes. “Ask: Is there a salary range for this position? Some of them list it right on the website.”

If you’re negotiating for a raise rather than a new job, you also need to have a good handle on what you’ve contributed, says Dr. Ben Sorenson, Vice President for Optimum Associates. Rather than try to create a document that charts this looking back, start today and do it going forward. If you receive an email from your boss that pats you on the back for a big win, put it in the folder.

The same goes for the sales numbers in which you’ve played a role—particularly ones that show how your performance this year improved over last.

What You Need to Say

When an offer hits the table, you’re tempted to do a little dance of joy. Do it in your head— but don’t let it hit your face. Say ‘thank you,’ of course (Doyle says being nice rather than contentious is key), then ask for time to consider.

When you’re ready to respond, here’s one way to ask for more: “I’m really excited about the offer, but based on my research, it seems low.” Also, let the company know they’re not the only game in town: “I need to give the other companies I’m talking to the courtesy of telling them I have an offer. I would do the same for you.”

If instead, you’re asking for a raise, you need a different language. Again, it comes back to your performance. (“Think not of what your company does for you,” one of my early bosses advised me, riffing on JFK, “but of what you do for your company.”) Lay it on the table, then ask: “As a result of this performance, would it be possible to get a raise or increase in pay?” If the answer is no, follow up immediately with: “I’d like to get your feedback on increasing my pay to this level, based on where I stand in the organization and on my performance,” Sorenson advises.

What You Shouldn’t Say 

When applying to a new job, it’s common to be asked your salary history, or how much money you want to make. Don’t answer these questions, says Katie Donovan, founder of equalpaynegotiations.com.

“Answering either one of these questions is going to keep you underpaid,” she says, adding that if you’re filling out an online application, you should leave it blank.

(“If it’s a required field put in 0.00,” she says. “For most systems that’ll be accepted; they’re just looking for a digit.”)

And if you’re asked what you are currently making? “If you’re among the 60% of Americans working in the private sector, it’s actually confidential,” Donovan says. And Massachusetts just made it illegal to ask about salary history in a job interview, a trend that could go nationwide. So in many cases, you can honestly say you’re not allowed to reveal it. 

Or you can find another way to dodge the question:

  • “It’s not about me, it’s about the job. What is the job budgeted for?”
  • “I’m moving from a city where the cost of living is less expensive.”
  • “I just got a graduate degree, so I’m not sure my past salary is relevant.” 

If all else fails, Doyle says, you can throw out a range, but do it with a codicil about why you expect to be at the high end of that.

How to Say It 

I’ve always agreed with Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovitch” and Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail”: Work is personal. And for that reason, it can be emotional. But when you’re negotiating, you’ve got to leave that emotion at the door. That means the idea of fairness—and the fact that others at the company may earn more—should not enter the discussion. 

“You’re not negotiating for equal pay,” says Sorenson. “You’re negotiating for elevated pay.”

With Kelly Hultgren

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Got a question for Jean Chatzky about your money or your career? Send your question to AskJean@thebalance.com for the chance to have it answered in an upcoming column!​

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