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6 Annoying Things Women Are Told About Their Salary Negotiation Skills

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The New York Times reported on a new series of workshops being taught at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, which aim to help college-aged women learn salary negotiation skills. The WAGE Project, an organization dedicated to closing the gender pay gap, along with the American Association of University Women, plan to have these salary negotiation workshops–called Smart Start–in place at more than 300 colleges and universities by spring. Nearly 30 colleges already have signed up for three-year commitments.

Teaching women these vital skills and tips as early as possible may be the best way to prepare women entering the workforce to try to close the wage gap because–let’s face it–the numerous studies don’t provide a clear answer. Study after study comes out telling women what they should be doing now and contradicting the last study in the process. When one says women should be feminine at the negotiating table, the next says they shouldn’t. One says they should argue for more money, the next says they need to play it cool.

If women could start their careers knowing exactly what to do when asking for that first salary, their entire trajectory would be better overall. We decided to take a look at a bunch of studies from the past few years so you can really see just how confusing the “advice” out there is, and why a program like Smart Start may be the answer.

Study Says: Women are actually good negotiators but because they have been told they are bad negotiators, they don’t perform well.

Thanks society. According to this study from the Columbia Business School, women are actually good negotiators. The problem is they have been told that they are not supposed to be good negotiators and if they are good, they will face some negative reactions. They end up going into negotiation situations not only having to worry about negotiating for a salary or promotion but about expectations of their behavior.

Study Says: Women act like 13-year-old girls when they are negotiating.

Some studies have found that women are weak-willed and don’t speak up in negotiation situations. Hairpin writer Logan Sachon wrote a great piece on this topic a few months ago, and compared her salary negotiation skills to that of a 13-year-old being asked to watch the neighbor’s kids. Lisa Gates, founder, trainer and coach of She Negotiates, an institution that helps women with negotiation skills, said that women really need to work on being more bold. “We keep quiet, we don’t speak up. That is our first biggest mistake,” Gates said. So look for opportunities to show off your accomplishments to your manager. “Women have to learn how to sing their own praises. The female thing we do is use words like ‘pretty good,’ ‘sort of,’ ‘kind of.’ Men naturally brag and it looks good on them,” she said. “When we do it, we judge ourselves and we judge others.”

Study Says: Women should act feminine and flirt in negotiations.

According to a new study, researchers found that if women can successfully flirt at work they can improve their brokering success by up to a third and help the economy. So put those books down lady, and put on that makeup!

Research director Dr. Laura Kray remarked: “Feminine charm is a strategic behavior aimed at making the person you are negotiating with feel good in order to get them to agree to your goals.” In their experiments with nearly 300 people, “feminine charm”—which is defined as flattery, warmth, body language (the classic hair toss, eyelash-batting, etc.), playfulness and sex appeal, in this case—helped female participants create better impressions and improve their economic outcomes.

Study says: Women who act too feminine appear soft and untrustworthy.

Wait, but didn’t the last one just say the opposite? Apparently there is a very fine line between flirting strategically and just flirting. When women act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes, they’re considered “too soft.” “We discovered both an upside and a downside to flirting at the bargaining table,” Dr. Laura Kray explained to the Daily Mail. “Although flirtation appears to be positively related to women’s likability, negotiators who flirted were judged to be less authentic than those who refrained from exercising their sexual power.” Flirtation, unlike simple friendliness, was perceived as connected to self-interest and competitiveness. But flirtation is also associated with traditionally feminine qualities like warmth and attentiveness, which could explain the apparent paradox of flirters being seen as both likable and untrustworthy.

Study Says: Women are bad at negotiating for themselves, but good at negotiating for others.

That Columbia Business School study found that women are not good at negotiating for themselves but are as good as men at negotiating for others. They also want the same amount of money when they are negotiating for themselves and a colleague. The researchers suggest when women enter these types of situations, they should approach it as if they are negotiating for someone else, like their family or the team they manage.

Study Says: It gets even harder for women to negotiate when they turn 37.

Ugh. As if turning 40 wasn’t hard enough. According to a new study by PayScale, pay tops out for women at age 37, but continues to grow until age 45 for men. In addition to pay growth stopping sooner for women, the level of pay where pay growth stops is lower for women: $61,000 versus $95,000 for men. This data presents yet another reason for women to work on boosting their negotiating scales. You should always be negotiating. If you negotiated your entry salary when you came in, it is going to be that much easier to ask for a raise after six months. Knowing your worth will help you that much more when you walk into the meeting. “You have to be able to keep track of your results and accomplishments. You need to keep track of your gains both hard and soft,” said Gates.

With all this contradicting information, it’s no wonder women are confused. Teaching college-aged women salary negotiation techniques, like the ones career expert Kate White shared with us in Office Hours recently, is one of the best things we could do to change that.

Did you negotiate your salary? Tell us about it in the comments!

To learn more about Equal Pay Day and Levo’s #Ask4More campaign, click here.

Photo: Jamie Grill / Getty Images


#Advice Career Development #Salary #Skills Career Advice
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Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

Wow! The advice really is conflicting. I think education is definitely important, as well as practicing and figuring out what really works for you individually. (I imagine successful negotiation tactics vary for different people.)


I am so glad that you debunk all of these myths with the research! Super useful and interesting.

The first time I asked for a raise, my boss came up with a lot of excuses as to why I shouldn't have a raise and I wasn't prepared to respond to those properly. Definitely helps to think about what your boss will say. The second time I asked, I was ready with a list of my accomplishments and what I have done to go above and beyond what I was hired for - and got a big bump!

Loved the data point where women's salary growth stops at $61,000 versus $95,000 for men and we stop growing at 37! It makes it even more important for young women to start learning NOW as opposed to later when it's already too late. Salary negotiation should absolutely be taught in college along with debt management and saving for retirement!

i did ask for a raise six months into my previous job and i got the raise, i was going back at least once a year to push my luck again especially when i found out that my male colleagues were paid higher than me while we do the same job. Flirting/being feminine without going over board does help me in negotiating deals while running my own company. It is all about confidence and making sure you worth the raise.

Stephanie Costa
Stephanie Costa

I agree that confidence is a key component!

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