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Study: Women Negotiate Pay When Given the Chance

In the U.S., the AAUW is on a mission to train women in negotiation skills

A woman is talking to another woman in an office.

​Salary negotiation is becoming more common, though there are discrepancies between how much men and women negotiate, according to economic research and a survey by employer review site Glassdoor. 

In March 2019, 17 percent of full- or part-time workers reported in an online survey they negotiated their salary and got more money at their current or most recent job, Glassdoor found, with slightly more men than women doing so. In March 2016, 10 percent of workers overall said they negotiated and received more money.

Global staffing firm Robert Half in Menlo Park, Calif., also found an uptick in professionals trying to negotiate a higher salary. In 2018, 68 percent of men and 45 percent of women negotiated their salaries; in 2017, 46 percent of men and 34 percent of women did so. Robert Half also learned that 70 percent of 2,800 managers surveyed expect candidates to negotiate. Managers were not asked that question in 2017.

A notable takeaway from the various survey findings is that fewer women than men are bargaining their salaries.

Research published in January 2019 in Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society found that when given the chance, women are as likely as men to negotiate their salary—but that opportunity doesn't present itself as often for women. The Australian researchers found that a significantly higher proportion of men in their sample indicated they have the opportunity to negotiate pay (49 percent of men and 35 percent of women, respectively). 

"International evidence," they added, "suggests that the propensity to negotiate is similar in other countries."

Lead researcher Katrien Stevens pointed to a study using U.S. data that found that men are more likely than women to negotiate when it is not explicitly made known that wages are negotiable.  When the possibility of wage negotiation is made explicit, this difference disappears and even tends to be the reverse, the U.S. report said. Those researchers found that men "prefer job environments where the 'rules of wage determination' are ambiguous."

"Employers need to be proactive," the Australian researchers wrote, "in offering more opportunities for negotiation to women."

But employers aren't likely to invite job applicants or current employees to negotiate their pay.

Since women may be less likely to recognize a situation as negotiable—and thus report fewer opportunities to negotiate—it's something that needs to be addressed to help bridge the pay gap, Stevens said. That could include negotiation workshops "in which women learn to consider many more items on the table as negotiable and that a negotiated outcome can be beneficial for both sides," she said. "But we might also need to change the way we raise girls in this respect, and cultural and employer attitudes to women negotiating matter as well."

Who Is Negotiating Their Salary?

Job Seekers
Source: Robert Half online U.S. survey.

Teaching Negotiation Skills 

Women are negotiating more than they have in the past, although men continue to negotiate for pay at higher rates, confirmed Gloria L. Blackwell. She is vice president of fellowships and programs for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the organization's main representative for the United Nations Economic and Social Council and all U.N.-related activities.

"It's becoming more common for women to negotiate, particularly younger women" in the 18-34 age range, she said, citing the 2019 Robert Half findings.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Pay Equity]

Working with private-sector companies, the AAUW is on a mission to train women in negotiation skills with the aim of closing the gender wage gap. Its goal is to train 10 million women in salary negotiation by 2022 through its Work Smart initiative and its Start Smart program, which is geared to college students.

The free workshops, held around the U.S. and online, are open to men. Through presentations and interactive exercises, participants learn about the wage gap and its long-term consequences on their careers, how to articulate their value and develop negotiation strategies, and how to conduct objective market research to benchmark a target salary and benefits.

The AAUW survey also found that:

  • 51 percent of Americans have negotiated for higher pay, with men negotiating slightly more than women (54 percent versus 47 percent, respectively). 
  • 61 percent of men are confident in negotiating for salaries compared with 53 percent of women.

"In our salary negotiation training, we find that some of the barriers that keep women back from negotiating is not feeling they have all of the information they need, not wanting to feel they're bragging about themselves and sometimes it's just being grateful to be offered a position," Blackwell said.

A contributing factor is that they don't have research on how they can benchmark their target salary.

"They can't articulate their personal value," she said.

  • Millennials and members of Generation Z are the most likely to talk about their salaries with co-workers (68 percent each). Generation X is the next most likely (55 percent), and Baby Boomers are the least likely (49 percent).

Additionally, 52 percent of Americans believe men are given better access than women to the training, information and resources needed to negotiate their pay successfully, according to the AAUW.

Employers are asking the AAUW to present 75-minute negotiation workshops to their employees, Blackwell said, as a professional development and growth opportunity and a move toward greater transparency.

"Salary is a huge part of equity. When people feel their employers have invested in salary transparency—that it's making an effort that individuals will be paid fairly—[employees] are more likely to determine that this is an employer who cares about me and cares about what I'm bringing to the table and [are] probably not as apt to feel there is that cloak of secrecy" around pay, Blackwell said. 


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