5 Negotiating Tips When You Think You’re Underpaid

It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more , and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.

If your newsfeed is anything like mine, in recent years it’s been buzzing with stories, statistics, and hashtags about the gender pay gap. Campaigns like #LeanInTogether, #girlboss, and most recently, #nastywoman have all highlighted why women need to take the proverbial bull by the horns when it comes to advocating for fair pay. Systemic sexism and a gender pay gap exists in many workplaces, and pay equity laws have been enacted at the federal level and in some progressive-leaning states to start to address this. But what can you do on an individual level if you find out you’re a victim of this pay gap?

It’s simple (and not so simple): Start by asking for more. It’s likely the guy in the cubicle next to you already has. In a widely cited study for her book Women Don’t Ask, Carnegie Mellon’s Linda Babcock asked a group of male and female MBA graduates if they’d negotiated their first offers of employment. She found that only 7% of the women surveyed engaged in salary negotiations, while 57% of the men had. That’s not altogether surprising — many women fear that asking for a higher salary or a better title makes them appear aggressive and unlikeable. The sad truth is that women are more likely than men to be penalized for asking for more simply because of tacit societal gender norms. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Buying into the misconception that advocating and negotiating for yourself is only for “pushy broads” is like relegating women to a permanent Mad Men secretary status. None of us can afford to do that, and there’s a good financial reason why.

Not negotiating or asking for more can cost a working woman over $500,000, on average, over the course of her lifetime. Stanford’s Margaret A. Neale explains it like this: “If you [don’t negotiate] and your [male] counterpart who negotiates are treated identically by the company — you are given the same raises and promotions — 35 years later, you will have to work eight more years to be as wealthy as your counterpart at retirement.” Eight more years. When you look it at that way, it seems ridiculous to not even try.

But asking for raises and promotions often makes people uncomfortable. Many women I speak with would rather avoid the conversation with their employers altogether, even if failure to have the discussion comes at great personal, professional and economic cost. Just like any other new exercise, adjusting your mindset to view self-advocacy as an advantageous tool takes practice. You will not always be successful, and you will not always get all of what you want, but push yourself out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. You’ll be surprised at how often asking gets results. Certainly, not asking just gets you nowhere.

You should also know that the law is on your side. States like New York, Massachusetts, and California are using pay transparency laws to target the wage gap. With the Act to Establish Pay Equity, Massachusetts became the first state to make it illegal for employers to ask for a job applicant’s wage history. In 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the Pay Transparency Executive Order, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who ask about or discuss their wages or those of their coworkers and further limits exceptions for gender pay differences under New York Labor Law 194. Pay transparency not only empowers women to ask for wages they deserve, but it also exposes flaws in the pay structure of companies that wouldn’t otherwise examine them and gives legal weight to your case for equal pay in the negotiation process.

Because I know how difficult this process is for women, I’ve put together some suggestions to help you along on your path to asking for more, whether you’re asking for a raise for the first time, speaking up because you found out you’re underpaid, or just going into an annual compensation review.

Ahead, five tips to get you started.

Preparing a wish list will help you identify your priorities, both short- and long-term. Before the big meeting with your boss, think about what it is specifically that you want and think big (this is just your personal list and you can always scale back). Here are some things to consider:

What do you want to achieve in both the near and distant future? In your professional life? In your personal life?

Are you looking for a one-time, finite win (a 10 % raise, a bonus)? Or are you working toward a long-term goal?

What conditions (pay, benefits, time off, office culture) and structures (work relationships, mentorship, division of labor) will set you up for success and fulfillment during your tenure with your employer?

The more precise your ask and the clearer your terms and expectations, the more likely you are to get what you want. Remember: If you are good at what you do, your employer will want to make you happy (unless you work somewhere horrible, which is another story altogether). Maybe you won’t get the exact raise or bump in title right now, but if you put it out there, you at least plant the seeds, set a precedent, and can push from there.

Also, if you don’t already know how your pay compares to that of your male colleagues, make sure to do your research. It’s important to know what the standard is for comparable positions so that you can present your case to meet or surpass the standard salary with conviction and evidence, if necessary. The trend toward pay transparency will go a long way to combat this type of discrimination, but until full transparency is common practice, do what you can on your own to gather any information that will assist your negotiations.

Ultimately, negotiations mean compromise; there is bound to be some give and take on both sides of the conversation. However, you’ve got to know your boundaries and what you consider non-negotiable.

When asked to give advice on overcoming career obstacles as a women, Katie Couric said, “Don’t be above playing the game a little bit with people, because it really ultimately means you are smarter than they are.” Part of “playing the game” involves giving enough of a hard line to command respect and understanding, just as your employer does. They will definitely come in with their own deal breakers, so you have to, too. Being able to confidently state those deal breakers combined with the talents you bring to the company will give you the political savvy to help influence those around (and above) you and get you the pay you deserve.

Before your negotiations begin, think about who it is that you’ll be talking to. Is it your direct supervisor, with whom you work and communicate on a daily basis? Is it a peer? Or is it the company president? Think about how that person generally communicates and how they communicate with you personally. And then ask around. Do your due diligence to find out everything you can so that when you walk into this meeting, you know what to expect from the other side of the table.

The key components to a successful negotiation are preparation and professionalism. There are many different styles of asking, and as you practice over time you will find the style that works for you. One useful tactic is to think about the negotiation from your employer’s perspective and frame your ask in a way that makes it clear that the company will also benefit. For instance, you might suggest that a more senior title will generate more industry respect and allow you to attract a higher level of business — it’s a win-win. I also strongly encourage people to rehearse their ask. Grab a friend and have her play your boss. It helps to hear yourself out loud and decreases anxiety.

The negotiation happens. You get an offer (hopefully). Congrats! But you’re not done yet. Whatever it is — a new title or raise or extra vacation days — make sure it’s documented in writing. If you aren’t provided with an employment agreement embodying the terms of your employment, at least have your new position and/or the agreed-upon deal points documented in an email. Something like this:

Dear Jane: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. This email is to confirm our discussion in which it was agreed that my salary increase to $100,000 will go into effect as of May 1, 2017.

This way, you have a record of what you were promised and there is no opportunity for the other person to conveniently not remember (or deny) what they agreed to.

In fact, make it a practice to keep written documentation of all positive feedback you receive in the workplace. This will give you points of reference for your accomplishments in future negotiations as evidence of your value and contributions to your employer.

Negotiating doesn’t come easily to everyone. I do it every day for a living and have more practice than most people, and I still find it challenging on occasion. So don’t feel bad if it terrifies you. But do it anyway. And keep asking. I promise you, it will pay off.

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