Forget Leaning In, Millennial Women Must Speak Up

Author

Kimberly A. Whitler, Contributor

April 6, 2015

As we head into the next presidential campaign, it’s a sure bet that a popular topic will be the gender wage gap. And while there is some debate as to the degree of wage disparity, there appears to be general agreement that a gap does exist and has for decades. Given that this phenomenon has persisted, it is surprising that there has been a lack of investigation as to its causes. More importantly, what causes are within the control of women to impact? As Covey suggests, focus first on those areas that are within our own sphere of influence.

While I don’t normally write about these issues, I am currently more attuned to the challenges facing Millennials given that I teach MBA students. And I am always interested in insight that helps empower individuals to take greater responsibility for their destiny. It is this reason that I found a recent study illuminating. As part of their #Ask4More campaign, Levo sought to understand what women can do to earn more money. And I frankly found the results surprising. Over 60% of millennial women accept job offers without negotiating. This is striking given that 83% of millennial women agreed that it is important to negotiate. Clearly, millennial women know they should negotiate, so why aren’t they:

  • – 66% didn’t know how to ask for more
  • – 56% didn’t know what to ask for
  • – 63% felt uncomfortable negotiating
  • – 58% were afraid of losing their job/offer
  • – 55% didn’t want to come across as pushy

Levo CEO and Co-Founder Caroline Ghosn identifies how starting off behind can impact women over time: “By 2020, we millennials will be 50% of our entire workforce. If over 60% of female millennials are kicking off our careers on the no-negotiation fastrack, we too will be experiencing the loss of over $461,000 in average household income over our lifetimes.”

I’ll provide a real-world example of how this plays out. At one point in my career, I had taken over responsibility for a fairly large department. Within that department, I had five individuals (four women and one man) all at the same level (e.g., Senior Marketing Director). As I was familiarizing myself with the budget, I found it striking that the man was paid 20%+ more than each of the four women. On top of it, my highest rated employee within the entire department was one of the women, and my lowest rated employee was the man. Trying to understand how a top-rated woman could be paid roughly 30% less (she was paid less than some of the women as well) than a poorly rated man, I sought answers from a knowledgeable source, seeking also to remedy the situation. I was told that the man negotiated better than all four women. That’s it. He started at a higher pay level which ensured he stayed higher over time.

Steps Women (and anybody struggling to negotiate) Can Take Now

  1. Women must find the courage to speak up. Regardless of the fear, knowing that you should negotiate is the first step. However, you must take the next step and commit to negotiate when it is warranted.
  2. Find an experienced mentor and practice. I personally find asking for more money horrible. On the few occasions where I felt compelled to negotiate, I always found a savvy mentor who had success negotiating (usually a man) and practiced with them. Importantly, make sure your mentor has been on the receiving end of the negotiation. Having been through this, there are better and worse ways to negotiate compensation and you want somebody who has experience on both sides of the table.
  3. Use marketing skills when asking for a raise – sell versus tell. At one point in my career, I had a top employee (who happened to be female), for whom I had just given a disproportionately high raise based on excellent performance, tell me that she needed more money because of family circumstances. While I can appreciate her personal challenges, this appeal failed to: 1) demonstrate an understanding of the magnitude of the raise that she had just gotten (8% raise when the reported average was 2.5%), and 2) demonstrate an understanding of how to approach the topic in a more professional and “other”-centric manner (versus self-centered). Rather than talking about why she needed more money, she could have engaged in a discussion around her performance and contribution to the organization, seeking to understand how she could have an even bigger impact (and therefore promotion and raise). Again, if she had run this appeal by an experienced manager who had effectively negotiated a raise, she would have received coaching that could have helped her be more effective.
  4. Use Data. Taking the emotion out of the discussion can make it easier. If you can find data (e.g., cost of living analysis, salary by level by city, etc.) that supports your position, the data-based approach is often difficult to refute and a powerful tool when negotiating.
  5. Act like Brenda. When I started at P&G, I had a female friend regularly negotiate higher raises. She had no fear. None whatsoever. I felt absolutely the opposite and was in awe of Brenda’s confidence. One day I asked her how she did it. And she told me that the rules of the game required negotiation; if you want to play and succeed you have to get comfortable negotiating.

While there is no Staples “easy” button for effective negotiation, this research should empower women to educate themselves, find mentors, and practice negotiating at the very beginning of their careers. Don’t wait. Learn how to do it when you are young, because the annuity-like cost of being afraid to negotiate will mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, over your lifetime.

This article was written by Kimberly A. Whitler from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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