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Career Advice

Why women don’t negotiate their salaries (but they should)

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated May 1, 2023
|7 min read
  • Women are less likely than men to negotiate their salaries, even though they are just as successful when they do.
  • Fear of consequences, lack of confidence, and not feeling equipped for the conversation are all factors that deter some from having the conversation.
  • Here are a few strategies for negotiating your salary effectively and how to truly know your worth.

The gender pay gap in the U.S. is hardly a secret — and it’s remained largely unchanged in the last 20 years. According to the Pew Research Center, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned, compared to 80% in 2022. 

One of the primary drivers behind the pay gap is that women aren’t negotiating their salaries as often as men — but it isn’t because they don’t try. In fact, Glassdoor research shows that 7 in 10 women have tried to negotiate their salaries, and nearly 6 in 10 said they were successful. As for the remaining 32%, the data shows that women fear they’ll be penalized in the long run for negotiating a raise.

Let’s discuss what’s driving those fears and how and when to negotiate salary.

The data on negotiating salary

Glassdoor recently surveyed more than 280 full- and part-time professionals who identified as women to dig into their motivations for and hesitations with negotiating salary before starting a new role. While a number of them felt empowered to advocate for themselves, many others were hesitant for reasons such as:

  • Fear of consequences
  • Not feeling equipped for the conversation
  • Inexperience, or a lack of confidence

“I'm not very confident when negotiating a salary because I don't know my employer's style/demeanor well enough at that point,” said one respondent “ They may think I'm being too forward.” 

Another said, “I assume they have an amount in mind and budgeted, and I may not know that figure.”

Those concerns are not unfounded.

A 2020 report by Harvard Law School found that “relative to men who ask for more, women are penalized financially, are considered less hirable and less likable, and are less likely to be promoted. Men, on the other hand, can typically negotiate without worrying about backlash — and are four times more likely to do so — because bold, assertive behavior is consistent with traditional masculine gender norms.”

Long-term, the earnings gap between employees who negotiate a starting salary and those who do not is staggering: The Harvard report found that the non-negotiating worker stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60. 

How and when to negotiate salary

Salary negotiation strategies differ between external candidates and internal employees. It’s important to tailor your approach accordingly.

Daniel Zhao, lead economist and senior manager on Glassdoor’s economic research team, noted that companies are “much more willing” to be transparent externally with candidates than internally with employees. 

“Companies are often required by law to share pay ranges on job postings, but the same isn't true for internal pay bands. Those external pay ranges are absolutely a useful source of information for internal employees to benchmark their own pay,” he said. 

It’s also important to consider the timing around the negotiation, including the current climate of the economy and the company’s review cycles. 

Here’s a timeline to help you determine which conversations need to happen at what time. 

Negotiating salary as an external candidate

The best time to negotiate is during the offer stage. Many companies — especially large, highly-structured corporations — limit the percentage an employee’s compensation can be raised by during a calendar year. An applicant’s best bet is to research salaries at the company and in comparable roles, and be prepared with a salary range. 

If the company doesn’t share pay bands for the position, try a salary calculator tool or start a conversation on Fishbowl, Glassdoor’s online community for professionals. Document your research so you can highlight specific data that supports your salary request.

Remember, as an external candidate, it’s okay to ask questions and ask for more money — even if you’re satisfied with the company’s first offer. Members of Fishbowl’s Women in Marketing bowl stress that you should always know your worth, advocate for yourself, and negotiate. If accepting a role requires you to move or incur additional costs for things like childcare, calculate those costs and factor them into the negotiation.

View this discussion on Fishbowl: Have you always negotiated salary even if you’re pretty content with the offer just to not leave money on the table? What has been your experience?

Building in performance reviews

In some cases, you may find yourself accepting less money for a position that isn’t a direct match to get the experience. (Perhaps you’re entering the workforce after a graduate program, switching career fields, or chasing an opportunity at a company you’re passionate about.) Even if a company is taking a risk on you, you can negotiate more frequent performance reviews and raises upfront.

Maria Musolino, a Tampa-based attorney and mediator, used this strategy years ago to negotiate her first job out of law school. Maria knew that the salary she was being offered wouldn’t cover her living expenses and student loans once her repayment schedule started, but she was also sensitive to the fact the company was taking a gamble on a new attorney.

“I agreed to take the lower salary, and then have a review in six months and a year — each time, incrementally increasing my salary,” Maria explained. “After the year, it would put me where I wanted to be originally, but then it was almost a guarantee: If you were going to retain me and keep me as an employee, this was part of the prerequisite in that retention program. In exchange, I was proving my worth.”

The hiring manager appreciated that Maria considered both sides’ needs in the negotiation. “I think she viewed the confidence that I had in myself and the willingness to prove myself as an attribute and not something to be concerned about,” Maria said.

Negotiating as an internal employee

Most internal compensation negotiations come as part of regular performance reviews, but employees have more leverage on the heels of a win. If you’ve just accomplished something big, you don’t have a performance review coming up, and you haven’t received a raise in the last six months, ask your manager if they would consider a raise. 

If you discover after starting a role that you’re making less than your peers, schedule time with your manager and/or your human resources representative to try to determine why.  Lynn C., a human resources executive who works in the healthcare industry, said it’s okay to ask your manager about how your skills and experience measure up against colleagues, and create a path toward parity. Instead of jumping straight to a salary demand, ask questions like:

  • Do these colleagues have additional certifications?
  • Do they have specialized expertise or experience?
  • What are the steps you could take to get a raise? 

Ultimately, Lynn said a salary negotiation has to be business, not ego.

“You are trying to do something that’s going to benefit you, but this is also a mutual decision with the company. You have to make the best business case for why they should give this to you,” Lynn said. 

While internal employees don’t have as much leverage to right-size a low salary, you’re not powerless either. The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from 1.5–2x the employee's annual salary, according to Gallup, so most managers will try to meet reasonable requests to keep a great team member on board. 

Empowering women in the workplace

Women are often stereotyped as nurturing, collaborative, and agreeable, while men are categorized as more assertive and competitive. As a result, women may feel uncomfortable or even guilty about negotiating for higher pay. Combined with a lack of information about their male peers’ pay and compensation, it can be difficult for women to negotiate effectively. 

Greater transparency around salaries will help move the needle in closing this wage gap, giving women the data points they need to ask for the salaries they should be earning. The vast majority — 85% — of employed women believe they deserve a pay increase.  

If you’re in the majority,  make a plan to start your negotiation.

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