Can I Negotiate the Pay I’m Worth in a Down Economy?

by Gloria Feldt on November 10th, 2011
in 9 Ways Blog, Equal pay, Heartfeldt Leadership Advice, Inspiration, Leadership, No Excuses, Politics, Power Tools, Wear the Shirt, Workplace and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wear the Shirt - Equal payNow that the Paycheck Fairness Act failed on Capitol Hill, what can women do to try to get the pay they deserve, the same pay as men? In this economy, women may fear that aggressive negotiating may cost them a job either before they even have it or while they have it.


When Denise Di Stephan, a journalist and local editor of’s, sent me that question via Facebook, I thought, “Wow, she’s sure covered the waterfront.” She touches women’s fears about negotiating pay in general, negotiating in a difficult economy specifically, and inadequate public policies to back up gender equality in pay negotiations.

Almost simultaneously, I got one of those “I have a friend who has a problem” queries illustrating Denise’s point about how women approach negotiations. But this one has little to do with Washington politics:

“Jessie” is negotiating a promotion while deciding whether to stay with her organization. She’s pretty sure her new supervisor earns a lower salary than she wants. Without knowing what her new supervisor actually makes, what else can she do to negotiate her salary? She gave notice and the company countered. So she’s in the midst of this counter-counter and is not sure how far to push it.

Are You Negotiating to a $500,000 Mistake?

You work hard for your money. I don’t imagine you want to create the $500,000 lifetime pay gap on average that women suffer compared to men by not negotiating compensation as effectively. Nor do you want to accept the 77 cents women earn to a man’s dollar; that can cost you another half mil or more, not counting interest you could have accrued or the lesser retirement funds you’ll get as a result of lower lifetime wages.

So what can you do? With the wheels of government halted by Congress’s intransigency on Paycheck Fairness, the best strategy is to divide and conquer Denise’s question, starting with how women can maximize personal negotiating power.

How to Value Yourself and Ditch the Excuses

She Negotiates principal Victoria Pynchon says the descriptor “in this economy” is a smoke screen —a self-limiting thing women do when we assume we enter compensation negotiations with a power deficit. Check out her list of excuses. Have you (like me) hidden behind one of these?

In reality, Pynchon argues, you’re not asking for a raise: “BEFORE the economic crash and the Great Recession, women were making 30% less than their market value; NOW they’re probably making 40% less, so you’re asking to be paid the fair market value of your services. Until women have achieved gender parity in wages, you’re just giving your employer the opportunity to do the right thing.”

I like LOVE that attitude!

She Negotiates founder, Lisa Gates, lays out a helpful step-by-step way to ask for a raise here.

Wish someone had given that to me when I was starting out!

Veronica Arreola director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois Chicago observed that men often ask her why women don’t ask for more. “There may be a tidal change in that GenX men or men raised by feminist moms expect women to ask and if we don’t, we lose,” she speculates. “It is still not a perfect game, but if we don’t at least try to play, we’ll never win.”

And Anne Perschel, PsyD – Leadership & Business Psychologist, specializing in advancing women, uses the game analogy too, advising, “Begin by knowing [that asking] is the way the game is played. Know and be convinced of your worth. Enjoy the game and the winnings.”

Credit Image: Images of Money on FlickrMy take on “Jessie’s” problem is that she’s in a very strong position. She was already prepared to leave her job. So what her boss is earning is irrelevant.  Once Jessie is clear about what salary level would make her happy to stay, she should ask for that.  As a manger, I’ve certainly hired people who made as much or more than me because of their expertise and value to the organization.  (Note: in the end, that’s what she did.  She didn’t get all she asked for, but enough for her to feel she was being treated fairly, and she decided to stay in the organization.)


On to Fair Pay Policies

In negotiating compensation as in most other endeavors, as Denise’s question prompting this column shows, the personal and the political often crash against each other like waves battering the shore during a storm.

Martha Burk of explains that under current law, women have the right to sue if they’re discriminated against, but that’s after the fact. The legal burden remains on women, not corporations, to do the right thing in the first place. That’s why the Paycheck Fairness Act is needed.

According to the American Association of University Women, a leader in pushing for fair pay legislation, 84 percent of voters support fair pay, as well they should. The Paycheck Fairness Act would update and put teeth into the 1963 Equal Pay Act and go a long way toward narrowing that pervasive pay gap between men and women.

Clearly much work remains to be done on both fronts. We can do a great deal as individuals to get a fair shake for ourselves in compensation, but in the end, we also need to be backed up by laws and policies that support equal and fair pay.

Here are additional articles that may help you do both:

Should You Make a Stratospheric Salary Demand?

Hello Ladies on Negotiating Pay

How to Negotiate a Raise

9 Ways Resources for negotiation and financial management

AAUW’s excellent information on the status of fair pay legislation and how you can get involved in advocacy for it

What other tips and tools can you share here that might help other women? What other questions do you have?

This post was originally published in BlogHer Career.  Check it and all my every-other-week leadership Q and A columns out there. Got an example to share?  Got a question you’d like me to address in a future column?  Please comment here or e-mail me.

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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