When Maoris in New Zealand discuss the pay for a new job, they often take someone with them to the negotiating table.
Sue Mitchell, a native Kiwi and career consultant who now works for The Barrett Group in Providence, R.I., explained that in the Maori culture it's not considered appropriate for either men or women to negotiate. So, like an agent for a rock star or top athlete, the friend is free to point out the applicant's accomplishments and argue for a higher salary or other terms.
A lot of experts say women in the United States are like Maoris. They hesitate to counter the first offer they hear. Men are far more likely to speak up and name a higher figure.
A study of graduating professional students at Carnegie Mellon University revealed men were eight times more likely to agree on a higher starting salary than the women students. That lower salary generally follows women throughout their career. It's often basic math. If everyone gets a 10% raise, and your salary is 25% less than your male coworker, he has jumped further ahead while you lag even more behind.
A similar pattern emerged at Harvard University. Men and women had very different salary expectations. Of the students who expect to earn more than $110,000 in their first year of work, three-quarters were male.
A study by the American Association of University Women suggests bargaining may be a key factor in those expectations.
“Negotiating a salary can make a difference in earnings, and men are more likely than women to negotiate their salaries. In part, this difference may reflect women's awareness that employers are likely to view negotiations by men more favorably than negotiations by women,” the authors indicated.
The AAUW research confirmed the male-female pay gap grows over the years. Among college graduates, the divide grew from 20 cents on the dollar one year after graduation to 31 cents by the 10th reunion.
Mitchell said most of the negotiating difference has to do with not knowing and understanding the process.
“I don't think that women can't do it – they just don't do it,” Mitchell said. “They may see negotiations as something that is not feminine. There's a fear of being denied. It can be their personality and way they were brought up. Women are quite good at facilitating negotiations, and we can do it for others and for our companies, but we don't want to do it for ourselves.
“Women need to understand that employers typically make offers. Employers expect you to negotiate. That's part of what they expect to see. Talk about what you can bring to the company.”
Yes, she agreed, the economy has prompted some people to assume if they won't take what the potential employer offers, someone a bit hungrier for a job will accept the deal. But you can ask if the offer is negotiable. If the salary is linked to a tight budget, perhaps other factors such as working at home one day a week or moving expenses are negotiable. Recognize it's OK to give and take.
To become effective at negotiating, Mitchell continued, you need training and practice. As some people grow up they watch the experiences of older family members and they learn to bargain. They come to realize it's all about business and that they need to keep emotions out of it.
At the same time, women can use their own negotiating style. Women often think they need to negotiate like someone else, like a man.
“If you don't ask, it isn't going to happen,” Mitchell said. “Do your homework. Know how well the company is performing. What has the company budgeted for the position? Be clear on what you want. Quantify your past accomplishments. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Recognize when you’re getting too greedy. Be willing to walk away.”
Lee Miller, author with his daughter Jessica of the book “A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating,” said most of the negotiating gap between men and women relates to women not knowing and understanding the process.
Women are often collaborative negotiators, he said. Men tend to adopt a more competitive style. Once women understand they are expected to negotiate, that everybody negotiates, they can become very effective.
“It's vital that women understand they are expected to negotiate,” Miller noted. “I tell the story of a woman who spoke to a male friend and admitted she didn't know how to deal with this. He basically told her she would be expected to negotiate, and in fact if she didn't negotiate, they would probably wonder if they made the right decision. If she couldn't negotiate for herself, how was she going to be capable negotiating for the organization?”
Women have to recognize they are expected to discuss terms of a job and can have a good relationship if they negotiate effectively, he continued. You have to be well prepared.
“The minute you use the word ‘fair,’ it isn't going to work,” Miller warned. “You put them on the defensive. Nobody wants to be accused of being unfair.”
He agrees with Mitchell that negotiations can include more than the salary. If you’re not handling salary negotiations well, you’re probably not effectively negotiating other issues. You can discuss a bonus, stock options or training opportunities.
As for reaching an agreement during a weak economy, “Obviously it's easier to negotiate when the economy is good,” Miller said. “However, it can be even more important in a weak economy. You should talk about the fact you are valuable. They need you for a project. They need you for something that is critical. You want to be negotiating at a time when they recognize your value. Timing is always important.”
Miller stated that negotiating is a learned skill. Be prepared, and – as Mitchell also said – be willing to walk away.
Five Negotiating Tips
Expect to negotiate.
Employers make offers, and they expect you to negotiate. In fact, they’ll be assessing how well you may negotiate on behalf of the company.
Do your homework.
Spend time researching to confirm the going rate for similar jobs. Also learn as much as possible about the potential employer. What challenges are they facing that you can help them meet?
Negotiate as if you were negotiating for someone else.
You need to point out what you have accomplished on other jobs, and the value you can bring to your new employer.
Don't take it personally.
Remember, it's all about business. Don't use the word “fair.” Don't negotiate emotionally.
Be willing to walk away.
Negotiating is a learned skill. If you and the potential employer can't agree on terms, so be it. You’ve gained bargaining experience. The next time will be easier, and you’ll be a savvier bargainer.