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A few years ago, I came to an uneasy realization about myself. I had an amazing job that I loved. And I was flattered when recruiters began to seek me out, validating my belief that my hard work and skills made me desirable as a professional. But I soon realized: I was a 40-year-old woman who had no idea how to negotiate with prospective employers.
As low-ball offers came my way, I found myself at a loss. Although I knew that such overtures were merely a starting point for negotiations, I didn’t know how to bargain my way to a better deal. I had a master’s degree, but I never learned this basic, yet essential, life skill.
I’m Rita Trichur, the financial services editor for The Globe and Mail and a Canadian business columnist for the Report on Business Magazine. Like many women, I spent much of my career silently stewing about being underpaid compared to many men in my field.
I was annoyed that some of my former employers failed to proactively close the gender pay gap, and was envious of certain men, especially less-qualified colleagues, who knew how to talk their way to the top. But most of all, I was angry at myself for accepting less than I deserved.
Discouraged by the second-rate offers I was receiving, I called a friend, another middle-aged media professional, for consolation. But he offered me his counsel instead: “If you want to be paid like a white man, you need to negotiate like a white man.” And since he happened to fit the bill, I figured there was no one better to teach me how to play the game. These are some of his best nuggets of advice:
- Job offers are about more than just pay, so remember to negotiate benefits, pension and other perks;
- Know your salary expectations and ask for more than you actually expect to receive;
- Play hard to get. If a company sends you a low-ball offer, wait at least 24 hours before responding to it. Then counter – without apology;
- Negotiate a severance package that is higher than the company’s standard offer and get it in writing;
- Ask for written commitments for any tools or training;
- Request more vacation time and inquire about flexible work arrangements such working from home;
- Optics matter, so make sure that you have a meaningful title and report directly to someone with real power;
- Ask for a review of your position and salary within a year of your start date to ensure that you’re not overlooked;
- Prioritize these conditions so you’re clear about your non-negotiables; and
- Believe that you’re worth it. This is no time for modesty
Since that time, I have found other useful tips for women about negotiating with their current or future employers.
One article validated my friend’s advice about playing hard to get by arguing that “silence is power” for women. The “pregnant pause,” as some call it, is an effective tactic because people generally feel obliged to fill awkward silences.
This article, meanwhile, casts a different light on the challenge that women face when asking for more money or promotions. It argues that women are already asking for what they want, but they must back up their requests with empirical data. While I’m still not convinced that women have become as brazen as men, I agree that keeping a running tally of your accomplishments comes in handy when preparing for performance reviews.
It’s also important to give kudos to companies that have vowed to stamp out the problem. Among them, Starbucks Corp. has promised to close the gender pay gap at its Canadian stores.
One final thought: As women, we’re not necessarily socialized to ask for what we need or deserve. Some of us were raised to believe that women ought to be selfless and self-sacrificing. As a woman of colour, I have no desire to be viewed as a victim. But I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that many of us face extra challenges to break the glass ceiling. Let’s keep that in mind when mentoring the next generation of women.
What else we’re reading
Corporate Canada also has a role to play to ensure gender representation at companies, including at the board level. I love this opinion piece because it debunks the so-called merit myth about why men are more likely to sit on boards, while successfully arguing the business case for diversity. This follow-up piece from the same authors outlines specific strategies that companies can use to correct the gender imbalance in their boardrooms.
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