When I was a 2L, my Women’s Law Society brought in a group called WAGE to talk about salary negotiations. It was an eye-opening experience and I’m so grateful that WLS opened my eyes to the wage gap and helped us learn skills to push back and feel confident in negotiating our salaries. When I started my job and received my offer, I knew I didn’t have much wiggle room because our salaries were based on our Union contract, but I still made it a point to see the COO so that he could explain to me the reasoning behind the offer. Mostly, I just wanted to feel comfortable and confident in what I was accepting–I know I wouldn’t have done that if not for the push my WLS provided.
Negotiating salaries is not easy. First, women tend to not negotiate to begin with because it feels uncomfortable, and because we often worry about being liked, or worse, we worry that the offer will be rescinded. These are valid fears because often women who do negotiate are penalized for not being “womanly” enough in their behavior. This damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t cycle is so unacceptable.
However, it is a great reminder of how this type of oppression keeps the status quo in power. For example, women are punished when we demand higher wages because we’re viewed as “unfeminine,” instead we’re expected to act like little docile creatures, happy to accept whatever we’re offered. This means we are more likely to continue to have low-earning power; which limits our political power as well. Similarly, those in power, benefit from our hesitancy in negotiating because then they can give us a low-ball figure knowing that we’re likely to accept the first offer given to us without much of a fight. This keeps their coffers full and keeps us subordinate.
Maybe this seems a little radical, but even when there is no conscious effort to pay women less or to punish them for negotiating, the statistics show that this inequality keeps happening, thus someone has to be benefiting from it–and it’s not us.
So, what can be done?
One. Educate yourself. If you’re still in school or are part of a women’s professional group, consider bringing in WAGE or similar associations. Being give just basic tools in negotiating salaries helped me feel confident in assessing my offer, and WAGE’s website became a resource for me to compare offers with other similar positions to make sure I was being treated fairly. On top of that, I’d also recommend reading Lean In, and other articles that teach how to negotiate salaries as a woman (and that distinction is very important).
Two. Get over the discomfort. It’s hard to negotiate because it’s awkward to talk about money; we are trained to not seem rude and ask for more than what’s offered; and if we really want the job, we don’t want to blow it. All reasonable feelings to have, but it’s important to get over the discomfort and feel secure in advocating for yourself. Perhaps as lawyers, we should feel like we have an advantage in negotiating compared to other professions; we should take advantage of that. Practice giving your counter-offer and be prepared to explain why you’re asking for that amount so that you are cool and calm when negotiating.
Three. Always ask for more time. Meaning, no matter how good the deal; no matter how much of a “dream” job this offer is–never accept the first offer as soon as it is offered. Be gracious and ask for some time to review what’s being offered. No one should be offended by this. You have a right to review salaries, benefits, insurance, etc. and you need time to review. The problem is that many are so eager to accept the job offer (and I don’t blame you, especially if you’ve survived the post-recession economy), that we don’t take the time to really assess if we’re being given something fair–that doesn’t benefit you. Instead, take a moment to at least feel confident in accepting (and understanding) the terms being offered.
Did you negotiate your first salary? Do you plan to do so in the future?