Women, Money, and Knowing Our Worth

We over here on the APW team have been thinking seriously about the idea I floated in last week’s entrepreneurship post—how our “real mission is to get people to improve their lives offline (passionate online community is great, but my real goal is to inspire people to change their offline communities).” We’ve been thinking: How do we talk about the change we’re facilitating in our own lives? How do we prompt people to talk about the changes they’ve made because of a post they read, or a conversation they had with someone in the comments, or an in-person discussion they had at an event? Today’s post is our first crack at it. Call it “Practicing Practical,” if you will. This post is from Kathleen, who attended the APW book talk in Atlanta, and she has real constructive advice for how women should deal with money in their day-to-day lives. Because y’all, we’re diving into money this week, and it’s hard. It’s For Richer For Poorer Week, Part I.

I attended the Atlanta book talk, and as Meg’s write up said, this wasn’t a night of wedding talk—it was a night of discussing our value as women, creators, contributors and (for lots of us in that room) business owners. Meg and Leah’s panel was so great, and the questions were even better, but the room felt… unsatisfied. Not finished. And as Leah said, we all needed to keep this conversation going, as there was so. much. there.

So in the spirit of “we are responsible to this community and to keeping this conversation going,” I told Meg as she signed my book that I’d be submitting about this topic, because if that room was any indication, we have a lot to learn from each other, and I want to learn from you all.

I know a little about how to value, position, and negotiate one’s worth, but (obviously) not all. My story is that I’ve had my own pregnancy and postpartum personal training business for the last eight years, and after working my way up the ladder (seriously, starting in 2005 as a contractor working just one hour a week) just negotiated a contract to come on as a partner/owner of a very large specialty fitness company. I’ve also spent the last two years in grad school, and I will graduate with my MBA in April (insert cheers and !!!!). Between owning a personal training business, working my way to partner, and earning my MBA, I’ve learned three big lessons/tools about setting and negotiating my monetary worth. The good thing is that these ideas work if you are negotiating a salary, or a rental fee for a wedding or a prenuptial agreement. (This is the point where I ask for more prenup posts because… yeah.)

1. Anchor: This is the hardest part to get right, and it’s also the most important. The gist is this: whatever number gets said first is where the conversation happens. If you start the conversation at a hundred dollars, you will NEVER get a hundred and one dollars. (And you are pretty likely to get fifty dollars.) If you think you are likely to get fifty, don’t start there—start higher. Anchoring means where the conversation starts is where it’s going to live. If a photographer quotes you $2,000, you probably aren’t going to end up paying them $2,500…or $400. On the other side, if a photographer quotes you $15,000, you probably aren’t going to end up paying them $5,000. Anchoring is the way to set the highest end of a ballpark. The goal is to set it high enough that you still get what you are worth (which, let’s be real, is probably more than you are currently asking for or getting) without killing the conversation or negotiation before it starts. The best way to set a good anchor is to look at:

2. Benchmarks: A woman at Atlanta’s book talk raised the very important point that we need to talk real numbers with other women. I have a girlfriend who’s an APWer (hi Lara!) with whom I discuss actual numbers—monthly budgets, debt, and finance goals—with almost weekly. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and guys, IT IS SO HELPFUL. In negotiating talk, this is called benchmarking. If you know what other graphic designers charge, you’ll have less of a problem setting or, even more importantly, confidently quoting your fee. If you do know that your range is about 10-15% higher than other designers, you can have a bit more awareness and, again most importantly, communicate clearly why your work/process/etc is 10-15% more valuable, convenient, quick, or well done. Knowing numbers—what your friends make, what your colleagues and mentors make—is an exceptionally helpful set of information, and it gives you a range to set your anchor a bit above. So now, we’ve got actual numbers based on real data. It’s time for the talking, or in negotiation terms, we need a:

3. Script: This step is the easiest to forget about, and the one that I find helps me the most. The information to gather is: what is the script to use when negotiating this deal/promotion/design contact/prenup agreement (seriously guys, email me if you’ve done that one)? Basically, what do you say? In what order? And what is up for negotiation? If you are figuring out a salary increase, what did your best friend say when she got her salary increase? Even better, what did your boss say when she got promoted? If you know the benchmark (what folks are charging/paying) and the script (what folks said to get there) you are in such (such!) a better spot. If you know that a friend booked their dream venue at half the cost, ask them what they said to make that happen. Someone out there has exactly what you want at the lowest price you’ve dreamed of asking. If you can find out what they said (and often, you can) you are much closer.

So putting my money (ha!) where my mouth is—my actual numbers and actual script. Here’s real numbers talk (what a specialty personal trainer charges) along with an example of a high anchor/benchmark (it’s more than clients are expecting me to say, even though I don’t negotiate/budge on the fee) along with the script I use:

“I charge $60 a session, and sessions last around 35 minutes. There are no discounts for package deals, but you also don’t have to sign a contract. You can pay week-to-week or month-to-month, and you can have me for 1-4 sessions a week”

Guys, if APW became the place we shared our anchors, benchmarks and scripts… well, women would make a lot more money. And, if the women at the Atlanta talk were any indication, really creative, talented women would get to do more of what they love. And that would be a really, really good thing.

Photos of the Atlanta Book Talk by: LeahAndMark.com and Amanda Summerlin

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  • J

    For more detail on this issue (and why this especially matters for women), I highly recommend the books “Women Don’t Ask” and “Ask For It!” Lots of great stories, examples, and practical tips. Not to mention hitting you over the head with the fact that if you aren’t negotiating you really, really should be.

    • As someone who is planning to start her own business and is terrified, THANK YOU! I’ll order them!

    • I also recommend “Ask for it”! I’ve found it simultaneously inspiring (that women can negotiate for what we want, at work and at home) and frustrating (that we often don’t).

    • Liz

      These are AMAZING books – everyone should read them! I saw one of the authors speak at a media professionals event and she was still, even after two books, amazed by how badly women undercut themselves.

  • I love this so, so much. I’m in the process of shifting my petsitting & very-casual-dog-training business over to being a real, live Dog Training Business. Setting my prices has been really hard, and I have found that talking with other people about the prices helps… but also many of my female friends just shy away and avoid eye contact. My therapist once said, “I’m sorry to say this, but think about what a man would do! Would he be shy about it? Probably not. Now try to do that.” I love that we’re having this conversation here. Thanks, APW!

  • KW

    I am absolutely terrible at promoting myself and my worth. I couldn’t even sell Girl Scout cookies! And my dad is in sales. Obviously it’s not hereditary!

    For my current job I benchmarked quite high. I of course didn’t get what I asked for, but I got a 9% raise after 9 months, so I’d say aiming high was the right thing to do!

    • PA

      There are many studies showing that women tend (almost universally) not to ask for promotions, raises, etc., the way men do. (The first comment on this post recommends two books that I would bet have better citations on that.) So I think it’s more a cultural gender-norm and less a hereditary/family-learned behavior. Your father’s skill (and perhaps encouragement) was going up against a whole bunch of subliminal cultural messaging.

      It is important to note that the person with whom you are negotiating may also have internalized this, and they may be surprised and/or upset that you are asking for more. Don’t let that intimidate you! One of my friends just worked through that exact situation, and she’s now an executive vice president at a very large corporation.

  • Ooh, good one.

    I’ve done some freelancing over the years and have always found it difficult to set prices. Since I want to do a whole lot more of it starting 12-18 months from now, sign me up for this conversation.

  • This reminds me that success for women in business is not a zero sum game. We can all succeed without another women having to “lose”. From Tina Fey’s Bossypants, “Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.”

    I want to dive in to Marxism and False Consciousness here but instead I’ll just entreat Meg to get more smart women to write about money and business ;)

    • kathleen

      Contessa— yes yes yes. In fact, I think it’s a multiplier– when one woman succeeds, it broadens and opens up the world for more women to succeed. It’s not “she won, so I lose,” but rather “she won, so I can too.”

    • meg

      I always also say that if you’re being yourself, you’re in competition with NO ONE.

    • Liz

      Love the Marxism reference, that is all.

  • Rachel

    This is SUCH a helpful post and I’d actually love to pick your brain more on getting started as a personal trainer! I’m in the process of studying for the ACSM exam. I am also working on going back for my master’s in nutrition. I want to be able to quit my full time office job and do solely personal training while going back to school (or for most of it), but am so scared of how to get started/what to do first/how to put myself out there. Can we talk more about this offline??

    • kathleen

      Rachel– I’d love to talk more about this with you! I trained clients both through undergrad and grad school and found it to be a really perfect fit scheduling and life-balance wise. Let me know your email– let’s talk.

      • Kathleen, would you mind if I join in on this? I’ve been considering getting a personal training certification for a couple years now, but have held back because I don’t belong to a gym and am not sure how to go about making connections once I have the certification. (I have the same kind of concerns as Rachel.) It’s something I’m passionate about and would love to do to supplement my income. Thanks so much for writing about this!!!


        • kathleen

          yes yes Corrie- I’d love to talk with you about this- I’ll shoot you guys an email this afternoon. Thanks!

      • Rachel

        my email is rachel1824 at gmail dot com

        Thanks, Kathleen!

        • KMarie

          I would love to be included in this conversation! That is, if you ladies don’t mind. My email is katrinakramer at hotmail dot com. I haven’t started any training or certification programs but have been considering it for some time now. I just don’t know where to start.


          • kathleen

            Perfect– I’ll include you too! Thanks.

        • I’d also like to be included. I’ve been training for 10 years but more than anything would like to do my own thing. I have no idea where to start and no one seems willing to share info once they have branched out from the commercial/corporate gym to training on their own!

          • nickliovich at gmail dot com

  • It’s hard to convey tone with the internet, so I want to start off saying this is from a completely calm and genuine place. I am sincerely happy this post was written. I know it is probably spot on for so many out there and very valuable.

    For me though, I’m unemployed so I have trouble even thinking about how I’d ever apply this (not that I’m saying I wouldn’t, but I’ve just been not-in-a-position to apply it so long it doesn’t seem normal.). I graduated in 2008, got a job 3 months later for the “just happy to be hired” price, then was laid off less than six months later due to the economy. Then I was unemployed for eleven months when I scored the “grateful to be hired” price job for an awesome job I LOVED… but which was temporary from the get go. It lasted three months. Then I was unemployed for an agonizing *nineteen months* until I scored a retail seasonal cashier position this past November.. and now I’ve been unemployed for almost three months. I’ve never even been in a position to collect unemployment because I’ve not had a job for six months straight yet.

    I thought I’d mention all this because after reading the post I thought, Gosh,it’s been so long since I was in a position to negotiate it’s almost like imagining winning the lottery.You know it happens to some people, and it could theoretically happen to you, but it seems extremely, extremely unlikely. I was going to leave APW for the day and maybe the week (cause you can imagine that having that much unemployment I don’t really have any money to discuss) when I realized I’m a part of APW and if I feel this way maybe so does someone else and I should give voice to it, not leave…

    • Sometimes I feel the same as you when I’m here. I work a job I am grateful to have while I go to school and take careof my kids. I don’t feel like I have much choice sometimes, I don’t feel like I have any “freelanceable” skills most of the time and sometimes I am VERY, VERY jealous and a little bit angry when I read Meg’s posts about working for herself.

      But, I am working to get there. When I finish my BA I will work on my MSW and when I finish that I will have the power to make choices and work for myself. I want it all now but I am learning patience and amassing knowledge like what’s here in this post today.

      I don’t know you and I wouldn’t condescend to give you advice about how to change your life except to say that big change is hard and scary and sometimes it takes so long you think it’ll never come. Hopefully you can keep going and find your *something* that gives you power and makes you feel like you have choices and don’t have to settle for anything.

    • kathleen

      Pamela- thanks so much for commenting- and oof. I can’t imagine how difficult the last few years have been for you, and I so so hope things turn around for you soon.
      You are right that this post came out of a very specific circumstance (mainly, self-employment and owning a small business) and that it mostly speaks to those that identify in one of those ways. I do think that some of the principals can be used in creative ways for people not in those places– I’ve used this stuff to barter for haircuts and to negotiate with my mechanic– but the post doesn’t explore those sides as fully. So I DO think there might be more in there for you than you realize, but I also totally get the “this doesn’t even acknowledge my experience” reaction.
      I’m glad you aren’t turning off APW this week, as I think your voice is needed (and I guarantee going to make a lot of people think with your comment).

    • Pamela, I can partly understand your frustration (only partly because I haven’t been in your situation). I’ve had loved ones who’ve been dealing with un/underemployment for several years and it is frustrating and scary and awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and I’ve seen the way that it affects everything from bank accounts to your self-confidence.

      But I think it’s important to talk about these things – women often don’t and it’s to our detriment in our careers and our pocketbooks. You mentioned negotiating for more feels like winning the lottery, but it’s important to remember that when you’re hired for something (yes, I said when), you can and should ask for more.

      • Rowany

        I also think it’s important to appreciate your worth especially when you are looking for jobs, since often women are so grateful that they get a job offer that they accept right away. This initial salary forms the basis of future raises and promotions, so doing this hurts you in the long-term.

    • Pamela, you’re absolutely right. Getting knocked around by unemployment can make a post like this seem like it’s from another planet! During these economic times, it’s important to point out that many, MANY people aren’t in a position to negotiate. They are unemployed and struggling. So it’s a privilege to be negotiating. BUT …

      Someday, I know it, you’ll be in a position to negotiate again. And remembering that you deserve more, will hopefully get you in the best possible position, as soon as possible! I’m pulling for you.

    • meg

      Well, this is “For Richer For Poorer” week, so I think leaving would mean you’d miss out on a lot of good conversation (though interestingly, we’ll have more really for pooerer stuff in the second round). I will say that everyone on staff has been (or is currently, depending) VERY BROKE at one point or another in our lives. Speaking from having been very unemployed for very long stretches, and having basically no money when I was employed for years, I think this sort of thought and conversation about money among women is always very, very important. Because I can GUARANTEE you that you won’t have no money forever, and having wrestled with these ideas *before* you get money puts you in a way better position than not. And trust me, I’ve been there. I think as women we try to avoid talking about money, particularly when we don’t have it, and I think that hurts us in the long term.

    • I felt that same way for a while—trapped, and like successfully negotiating would be like winning the lottery. My first job out of college was kind of a dream job but there was a pay freeze when I was hired that lingered for most of the several years I was there. My experience felt weirdly inverted—I WANTED to negotiate my salary, I recognized that it was something that I needed and should be doing (and that it was something a lot of women did not feel OK about), but I had zero opportunity to do it. Later, when I was offered another job (after a bit of unemployment—eesh, I feel you), I was SO thrilled to get the chance to negotiate—but the offer they made me was firm, no wiggle room. I kinda half jokingly set a “life-list goal” of “some day, some how, successfully negotiate a salary”—so when I DID finally get the chance, I was SO ready to go. It was like, yes, I’ve been waiting for years, let’s do this. And it worked. So. My advice, totally unsolicited: This still totally applies to you! One day you will get a job and you will be offered the chance to negotiate your salary and you will do it and it will be because you’ve been preparing yourself for all this time for that one moment. Kind of dramatic? Maybe. But it’s also kind of like MAGIC because it’s the one time in your life you can be like “OK, can I please have more money?” and there’s a reasonable chance someone will be like, “Yes, sure, but only because you asked!”

      • kathleen

        Rachael- I LOVE this. Especially as so many women dread and hate negotiation, and instead you made it a life-list item. Gigantic high-five to you.

      • EM

        what a great way to think about it! and (another perpetual student here) when I actually have a chance to negotiate, I’m pretty sure this is going to be playing in my head:

        it’s the one time in your life you can be like “OK, can I please have more money?” and there’s a reasonable chance someone will be like, “Yes, sure, but only because you asked!”

      • Rachael,

        I have also had a tendency to get jobs where the salary is set ahead of time, with no room for negotiation *and* where increases are based on a company/organization/school-wide scale. Maybe 3% across the board, every department. I guess this is both good and bad. Good that I *can’t* worry about it. Bad that I don’t get to challenge myself.

  • I just started a job last month and negotiated my way into more money that what they initially offered even though they knew my salary history and offered me exactly what I said I wanted. Because I did my research and discovered that their benefits are ridiculously expensive despite not covering that much , I realized the salary increased would not be that much of an increase. So I asked for more and told them exactly why. And they gave it to me.

    (This sounds ridiculously easy, but as my twitter friends will tell you, I spent the whole day going insane and flipping out about what I should ask for and how much is too much and all of that)

  • M

    I unexpectedly had to negotiate my salary for my job last fall. I had NO IDEA what I was doing. If it hadn’t been for my fiance, I would have taken a lower salary, but he pressured me to value myself more, set the anchor higher. I was very uncomfortable doing this.

    I gave my “anchor” as a range–I was looking to make between X-Z. They came back and offered me X. I would have accepted less than X, but it did leave me wondering whether the range thing was the best move. If I had given one number, Y, would they have given me that? Or come back with something less than X? How to know?

    Also, I’ve received advice that if at all possible, you should let the other person give a number first. I did try to do that w/ my job–I held off giving them any number as long as I could, but gave the range in the end. Anyone have experience with this?

    • kathleen

      M- congrats on your very awesome X salary. That’s awesome– and yeah, I sometimes feel more comfortable with using a range to anchor, especially if I’m in an area where I don’t really know what they are expecting me to say.

      The general “rule” on who should say the first number is (and this is VERY general)– if you know the other parties basic range, say the first number, and anchor right above their range. If you have no idea what their range is (the boring technical term is “bargaining zone”), don’t anchor/give the first number, because there is a decent chance you will say a number IN their range and then not get as much as you could. (Again, this is very very general, and assumes a zero-sum, one issue negotiation, but it’s a helpful tip I think). Again, congrats on your successful salary negotiation :)

      • PA

        I would love to hear more input regarding this – the rule I’ve been given is, “Whoever says a number first, loses.” And now that prospective employers mandate that you put a salary requirement in your application, it feels to me as if I am always “losing!”

        How do other people navigate this on written applications?

        I know that in interviews, I tend to be very vague: “I would like to maintain a good standard of living, with enough to continue saving for my retirement,” which has so far worked quite well. Obviously, however, this is not an option for those little fill-in boxes on online applications.

        • carrie

          And the other part of this is that I would be afraid to state my anchor at Y, when they have in mind they want to offer X, and they think you’re too expensive so they just move on. When X is actually fine, but you don’t want to state X and then get paid less than that.

        • Eileen

          I think the “whoever says a number first loses” idea is dumb. It is based on the idea that there are winners and losers in a negotiation, but in a successful negotiation everyone feels like they got a good deal.

          I build websites, and I am happy to tell clients a number (range, usually, because the projects are big and vague like that) first. I don’t tell them a number that has anything to do with what will make *them* happy, I tell them a number that values *my work* highly. If they choose to pay it, they are making a decision that they value their new website for that same amount of money. I get well-paid, they get a great site. Everyone wins.

          • “I don’t tell them a number that has anything to do with what will make *them* happy, I tell them a number that values *my work* highly.”

            This is a great point. I tend to worry way too much about what other people think and how to please others…

        • ElisabethJoanne

          The Bureau of Labor Statistics and other federal agencies have pretty precise wage statistics in terms of region of the country, industry, and job title/description online. This means almost everyone can find out the average wage/salary of someone in the job they’re applying for, in their region.

          From there, you can put a number somewhat higher than average as an anchor if the employment market is good and you’re experienced, or average if the market is bad and/or you’re new.

          • Anna

            Thank you, what a great resource! I’m currently preparing to negotiate a raise at my job, but I recently switched professions and I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out what is “reasonable” in terms of an end goal. This gives me a great starting point.

          • kathleen

            this is so so awesome- real live benchmarks! thanks for sharing.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Everyone’s welcome – but thank yourselves. We’re talking here about how women sharing information with women – salary, budget – helps women. The feds have just done that on a larger scale.

            I don’t know how the BLS collects its data. I’m sure it’s explained on the website. But some of these programs get their data from volunteers – people who take the time to fill out the long census forms, to answer the door when the inflation-trackers knock, etc.

            So, next time you get a strange letter from a strange federal agency, read it, and consider participating. [No, I don’t work for the feds. Besides the context discussed here, I use the statistics professionally in preparing presentations to local “ordinary citizens.” The data help me know what an “ordinary citizen” is like.]

          • Audrey

            Similarly, you can sometimes find other good salary guides online.

            I got this website in the mail from a place I used to temp and it was so nice to get a really specific sense of my pay rate. (I recently got a raise and have struggled at feeling like I’m “not worth” that much, but it turns out that for my experience and part of the country it’s very normal.)


        • I HATE when they request salary requirements in an application/cover letter. I’m sure in theory in just lets them know what you’re expecting; however, I feel that it gives them a reason to automatically rule you out. Maybe I’m just a tad cynical . . . ?

    • I just commented that I negotiated my way into more money for a job in January and before I called them, I read practically every article on the internet, so I kind of feel like I know what I’m talking about. Kind of.

      I used a range too and the phrase “negotiable based on benefits and other compensations” is a big point. Because if their healthcare or vacation package is crappy or they don’t offer 401(k), then you can go back to them and say, ‘I had said x-y, but with the benefits you offer, I would like a salary of Y-Z’ and if they say no, then they say no. And depending on the organization, you can try to ask for non-monetary benefits (telecommuting, blackberry, more vacation days, etc…). It really depends on the company you’re talking to – I think you can get more “stuff” from smaller companies than large, but I could be making that up.

      • I work in recruiting and professional development, and I definitely agree with Christina here – Using the “negotiable based on benefits” line leaves the window open for the employer, so to speak. You should use the same tactic when you consider your current salary – do you have a gym membership? flex time? extra vacation? – all of those things are worth money.
        Also, market research is really important. If you have friends in the industry, ask them what they think you should ask for based on their experience. If you don’t have friends who work in the same field or don’t feel comfortable asking, just try google. There are lots of websites out there that provide average salaries based on industry, title, experience and geographic location. This will help you determine whether or not your range is reasonable.
        Finally, I can tell you that the employer always has a range in mind. Whether you give a number or a range, as long as it falls within theirs, they’ll give you what you ask for. If they’re trying to save money, they’ll give you the low end of your range. If they’re in a position to offer you more, employers will generally split the difference of your range. Which one they choose can be an indicator of how hard it will be to get a raise in the future, which is important if you are considering multiple offers.

        • When I started my current job I asked that they match the earnings I had at my previous job and that I would be able to take vacation after six months instead of a year. Now, I wish I would have asked for a larger contribution to my health care in addition to my other requests but that’s a lesson learned. Talking about money only helps others to prepare for these situations.

      • Marina

        I’ve used the “depending on benefits” line. Since I work in the nonprofit industry, I’ve made it clear that I value nonmonetary benefits as well–many nonprofits have a very firmly set salary for an open position, but are quite willing to offer telecommuting, working from home, a weekly staff lunch, even discounts at local businesses. I also ask about training and opportunities for advancement. If my starting salary is lower than I’d hoped but the company has a clear history of hiring from within or encourages employees to dedicate a certain amount of paid time to education, that’s a pretty good tradeoff for me.

        For some reason the “depending on benefits” line also makes me feel less nervous about negotiating. I guess I feel like it gives me a face-saving out if I somehow gave an anchor number way out of their range?

        • Not Sarah

          I love the idea of “depending on benefits”; thank you! I know that my health insurance is super cheap with my current employer, so that is definitely something that I would be taking into account if I was looking around for a new job.

  • This is really great. I believe that money is difficult, and as a woman it’s even more challenging because I was not necessarily fed the same messages about my monetary worth as my male counterparts are. Something which I have spent a lot of time trying to understand is that I am worth the price I charge.

    Money is an awkward thing to discuss with people (and I would imagine even more so if you do creative exploits, because we undervalue artists for some reason, which is dumb). And as a therapist, I find that I have an awful time discussing money. Mainly, it’s because I just want to hug my clients and say, “no, really it’s okay. I just want you to get better; no need to pay me.” But the reality is that though I *do* desperately want my clients to feel healthier, I have to pay my bills and eat and even go to concerts so that I can serve them well. For me, it’s been somehow framing it slightly differently in my brain that has allowed me to feel less uncomfortable when that talk has to happen.

    And your script up there is pretty close to what I do. :)

    • Parsley

      Nicole, I think you’ve totally hit the nail on the head about another reason that women don’t tend to ask for what we’re worth, which is that we’re also taught to look out for the needs of others before our own. So, it’s not just about being uncomfortable asking for something on our own behalf, but also about not wanting to hurt the other party, or about a hyperactive caretaking reflex. I think this might be especially true for women in helping professions (therapy, or in my case, ministry), but I imagine it happens to others too. Like for me, I had a colleague tell me that I should ask for a raise because women never do, and my initial thought, which I never really was able to let go, was “Oh, but they could never afford that.” I think in my profession that care for what the congregation is a reasonable factor, but it is so easy to let that be all that I think about and not ask for more for myself. (In fact, when this gets really bad, I sometimes find myself contemplating arguing at a Board meeting against a raise in my salary, which is just sort of the epitome of this whole thing.)

      Thanks, everyone, for a great conversation!

      • I “exactly-ed” this, but I have type it as well.


    • Anne

      Nicole, have you read “Building Your Ideal Private Practice” by Lynn Grodzki? Grodski discusses how some individuals in helping professionals struggle to charge enough for their services. She makes a compelling argument for charging enough for your services. She also has some exercises to help with raising your rates etc.

      • I have not read that one, but it is now on my list. Thank you, Anne!

  • DKR

    Oh, Kathleen, I wish I could have read this before I sold my house three years ago. It was a for-sale-by-owner through my attorney, and I quoted the buyer the range the realtor gave me for the value of the house, not just the upper figure. Of course, I got negotiated down from the lower figure, and ended up selling the place for $5K less than I could have. /sigh

    And TheQueerBird, yes! Your therapist is right. I’ve read quite a bit about how men negotiate differently than women, how women benchmark (thanks for that term, Kathleen) lower than men, don’t negotiate as hard as men do, and therefore don’t catch up to men salary/income wise. I also read somewhere (here, maybe?) something Suze Orman said – that at business conferences for women, the women are ALWAYS encouraged to do volunteer work, while at business conferences for men, the men are NEVER encouraged to volunteer.

    Thanks for starting this conversation here, Meg. There’s definitely a need for it.

    • kathleen

      DKR- Even knowing all this, I found buying a home to be THE MOST STRESSFUL event ever, so I get you there. I think Suze Orman has so many smart things to share – I loved her Young, Fabulous and Broke book when I was dirt poor. Hope you’ve found a lovely new home DKR. :)

  • Bessa

    Oof. This one hits hard today, as I completely muffed a salary negotiation last week. I was determined to ask my supervisor for a reasonable salary increase at our monthly lunch, but ended up complete wussing out of the hard conversation and accepting a non-specific offer to “look at the issue again in the future”. URGH. I was so frustrated with myself walking out of that meeting. I would consider myself a strong and determined woman, and that lunch just reminded me how little women are taught about negotiations and salaries. Not just explicitly taught, like Kathleen is awesomely doing here, but implicitly taught and reinforced by society as a whole.

    As an aside, ladies, learn from my experience: GET IT IN WRITING. The increase I was asking for was one I had been promised when I was hired here, but the supervisor who offered it has left the company and I had no proof that he’d made the offer. If I had just made sure it was documented right away, I wouldn’t have even had to have that icky conversation that I blew. It might feel awkward to ask for something that seems mercenary when you’re just starting somewhere, but it will save you angst later. I know for a fact that I’ll never accept a salary-related promise without documentation again.

    • PA

      This sounds so frustrating – but on the flip side, I really want to thank you for sharing the “get it in writing” aspect! I might not have thought of something like that.

      Best of luck, and the next time you’re in negotiations, think of all of us standing in the room cheering you on, going, “Negotiate! Do it!” …and then try not to laugh.

    • I had this happen too– I was told I would be getting a certain raise three months after I started working with the company. When three months rolled around and I didn’t get it, and since I didn’t have any ‘proof’ and the person who had promised the raise denied it, it was just my word against hers. I fought for it, was denied, and came out of the situation feeling sad and cheated. :/ I will also never not get a promise like this in writing!

      • Definitely get it in writing! Sooooooo important.

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    This is a crucial topic. I’ve noticed that even if someone gets past the feeling that they can’t negotiate regarding their pay, or rent, or some other equally important aspect, they have no idea how to actually go about it. I think this was a common sense approach that many will find useful.

    Perhaps it’s not applicable to your life right now. I am still several month away from finishing my MSc in Agriculture, so I can’t use the knowledge at this exact moment-but it will be entirely relevant in a very short (!!!!) period of time. Even if you can’t use the practical aspect of this post you should take the idea behind it: We need to value our work (and our time!), whatever that work is, more than most of us do now. If you feel you deserve a raise, or that promotion has your name on it, or you really think paying $X for X (for your wedding, or your house reno, or whatever) is too much: it is more than alright to raise that issue. If we keep an open dialogue, with real numbers and experiences, we could totally change the way women talk about finances.

  • Sara C.

    I just want to add that even though I have not been in the position to negotiate for myself very much (perpetual student and my internships have been fairly standard stipend/pay rates), I REALLY appreciate it when businesses or vendors (wedding planning now!) are very clear on their rates/packages/service details/products. Its easier for me to see if there is something in the package that I don’t need, while also making sure that I’m not offering up a number/request that is so off-the-wall low as to be insulting (which I would never want to do!).

    So, as a consumer of your services, THANK YOU for scripting/planning :-).

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  • Laura

    This is SO GOOD to read. I was frustrated at my last promotion that I didn’t get the salary I thought I was worth. Well, reading through this…totally low-balled myself with that whole anchoring thing. Wont’ let that happen again…

    I find the matter of discussing money with others VERY uncomfortable. I’ve always been taught “don’t ask what other people make, it’s rude.” I avoid the subject like the plague at work. And while I still don’t think I’ll be asking my cubemates how much they make to sit across the wall from me…I do need to be more proactive in finding other women in my field, and asking about their experiences.

    • PA

      Maybe it would be helpful to seek a mentor in a similar field or career track, but at another company – that makes it less personal than asking coworkers, and ALSO gives you an idea of how your company pays compared to other similar companies.

      As to how to find that mentor, I ran into mine through pure luck (we do martial arts together), but I suggest a combination of linked-in, career events (fairs, etc), and possibly signing up for a class or two at your local business school, so that you can get into alumni networking events. (I know that a lot of people in business in my city went to one specific school.)

      • Laura

        That’s good advice…I have friends who do similar work as me, and while they’re a good resource in some ways, it can be difficult because we’re essentially at the same point in our careers. So none of us can pepper our advice with hindsight ;)

    • As someone who’s found out that other people who have worked at my job for shorter periods of time make more than I do – It’s good not to know what your colleagues make. It’ll leave you bitter and ‘Steve makes more’ is not a good negotiating tactic.

      • Hi Christina, I agree that it can be awkward to know our colleagues’ salaries, but it also puts us in a stronger position when negotiating next time. It’s not necessary to mention “Steve” specifically, but it could help to say something like, “I know that people in my position typically make $X more, and I deserve to earn at least that amount too.”

        Negotiating can be hard and every bit of information we can gather is helpful!

      • EM

        Christina, I hear what you’re saying with this. Although I don’t have direct experience with it, I have a good friend who had a similar experience. In her case “Steve” was a good friend who had virtually identical credentials and professional accomplishments. When she asked for a (perfectly reasonable, Steve-level) salary bump and was totally rebuffed — which absolutely did make her resentful (of the management, not Steve). But for her, the concrete proof that she wasn’t being appreciated gave her the extra push she needed to go find a job in which she would be. Sometimes it’s more pleasant not to know when you’re being under-valued — but I think more information is generally a good thing.

  • ambi

    The point about how we really need to start talking about concrete numbers is SO true, both on this site and in our personal and professional lives. For the past several years, I have been struggling to pay off credit card debt. Not only has this taken a toll on my mental health, and my relationship, it also hurt my friendships because I was too ashamed to talk to any of my friends about it. We talk about everything . . . except money. Finally, a few months ago, I told one of my friends the position I was in, including concrete numbers. And it felt amazing. Turns out, she had also struggled to pay off debt before her marriage.

    So the point is, open up! Talk about actual numbers, even if it is really really scary. And in that spirit, instead of just saying “credit card debt,” I’ll be more specific. About a year ago, my boyfriend and I had the biggest fight of our relationship. I was almost $10,000 in debt, and he confided that my inability to manage my finances scared him enough that it was keeping him from proposing to me. I had long since wanted to pay everything off, but I felt lost and powerless to do so. That conversation, and his support, finally got my butt in gear and I worked out a plan. Based on the online calculators I found, it was going to take me over two years to pay it off. However, as it stands now, I should have everything paid off within the next month. When I talked to my friend, I was about halfway there. She was really supportive and great, but obviously shocked that I had accumulated so much debt. Opening up about that was really terrifying, but good for me.

    • Yes! The worst thing women can do to one another is pretend we have it together. Everytime I open up to another mom that somedays I feel like pinning a twenty to my kid’s shirt and wishing him luck (because that’s gotta be better than whatever I’m doing for him) it opens a floodgate of their stories of how they think they are failing. Then we realize we’re not failing and we go home just a wee bit more confident that we’re ok.

      Just like your credit card debt – most people think everyone is worse or better off than they are. Very few of us have a reasonable perspective.

    • Yes. Absolutely. Yes to this. Talking about money in our personal lives is applicable to EVERYONE not just those who are self-employed.

      It’s also a wonderful exercise in taking credit for your accomplishments and showing empathy for those who have less. OR it can be an exercise in owning the less successful money moments in your life and still showing joy for those who have had otherwise. It’s a good stretch for people in any area of the money spectrum.

      • kathleen

        I totally agree— and really find that these conversations are most helpful when they have a sense of ‘this is where I am, this is where I’m GOING’ to them. I think hearing others’ financial reality is helpful, but it’s amazing (and so instructive) to hear what they want to do next (whether it be paying down debt, or buying a home, or investing) and then getting to watch as they work towards that.

        I think by hearing about planning and goals we’re reminded that money isn’t static- and that it’s our abilities, not our current income, that are our real worth.

  • Kari

    This might be one of my favorite topics to discuss! I took a 1-hr class on negotiation from an awesome B-school lady where we learned things like anchoring, best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA), and more just before I moved cross-country from the South to the intimidatingly-different-and-more-expensive Bay Area. I was fired up to not let my female tendencies get in my way of putting my new-found negotiating skills to work.

    I started with my furniture. I needed a single bed, and I decided I wanted to pay $50 for it. I called a couple of people who had ads, and said, “Would you take $50?” and one (whose bed had been used in the guest room of a clean and tidy house) said yes. Done!

    I have about four more good negotiating stories from everyday life that I ‘d love to share for those (who I feel for) who are unemployed. WE USE THESE SKILLS ALL THE TIME. But I want to move on to the salary negotiation story:

    I got a job interview with a company that seemed like a good fit about a month after quitting my great job and moving to CA. I had savings, and I was doing fine financially, but I was an emotional basketcase at this point, feeling genuinely jealous of the cashiers at Safeway when I realized they had jobs and I didn’t. AND YET, I decided to benchmark and look at the salaries of engineers (my profession) in the Bay area and not just compare the potential salary to my salary at my old job in the South, which was much lower. This company makes you give them a number first in the job interview (sneaky, sneaky…they know about anchoring, and a potential employee may anchor low in hopes of getting the job). I had done my research, and I quoted a range $12-17K above my old salary without batting an eye.

    When I got home, I freaked out, called my parents, and got chastised by my FATHER for asking for too much. He really felt like I’d gone overboard and wouldn’t be offered the job. I debated emailing the HR contact and saying, “You really don’t need to give me that much money.” (P.S. I think that’s always a bad idea ladies–real glad I didn’t do it.)

    One week later, I got the offer! And!!! They offered me the full $17K above my old job! WHAT! It was a great day, and I’m still happy in that job 3 years and three salary increases later! Let’s keep talking about these things, ladies.

    • Martha

      Oh my gosh – YES! And congratulations! I’m also an engineer, and I watched a friend negotiate her salary up $10K in the Bay Area. The ONLY reason that she felt confident enough to do it was that she knew the salaries of other engineers in the area, and more specifically, several other offers that this particular company had made. She was shocked when they agreed to her request without a return offer.

      I feel SO STRONGLY that real numbers should be discussed! I’m finishing up grad school, so this topic has come up a lot in our friend group – and I ALWAYS ask for very specific numbers. Granted, these are my friends, so they’re very comfortable telling me to shove it if they want to (one has), but I’ve found it so beneficial to know exact numbers. I was actually a little disappointed when I found out that I can’t really negotiate for my salary because it’s on the federal pay scale.

      • Kari

        Thanks, Martha! My dad really couldn’t believe it when I got the high end of what I asked for. And I was surprised too! I learned a huge, valuable lesson about the assumptions others make and how those assumptions affect me. It’s not like my dad doesn’t think I’m great. He is terribly proud of my being an engineer and thinks I deserve a good salary, but he is not a great negotiator. He has been through some pretty negative work experiences even though he’s the hardest worker I know, so he tends to undervalue himself as well. All good things to know going forward as I continue to seek my dad’s advice but also bring all these skills into my new marriage and navigate financial decisions with my husband (who incidentally has far fewer experiences making the same types of decisions).

      • DKR

        Martha, I hear you about being disappointed about not being able to negotiate your salary. But the plus side to being on the federal pay scales, for those who don’t know, is that pay is based on pay grade (which in the military corresponds to your rank). As a result, women and men make the same salary for doing the same work, which sadly doesn’t happen often in private industry.

        • Martha

          You’re right, DKR. That’s a nice side effect. I wonder how much of that rolls over into every day work – I’ve heard that, in particular where I’m going, it’s a great environment for women, there’s a reasonable work/life balance, and they support families (which is big, considering we want babies in the nearish future). Also, both my branch lead and the branch lead that I’ll be primarily assisting are women. That’s rare in engineering, and something I’ve definitely taken into account when deciding where to go. I thought it was a trade off worth making, seeing as my starting salary (with experience and a PhD) will be on par with a friends’ (no experience and an MS). I guess that’s a long way of saying that quality of life is important to consider in career decisions.

    • Lynn

      My current job was my last negotiation, and based on what everyone else here is saying, I got part of it right. *sigh* At the time, I was interviewing for two jobs that were paying roughly the same. One was where my heart lies (and I got some excellent advice from that gentleman. Think he looked at me like a daughter, which is weird…that happens to me a lot) and the other not so much but it could have been. I told the one that I was unsure about that my family means a lot to me and to take their job would require a move and a realignment of our plans. I also told them that I was in the process of interviewing for a job that was more in-line with my previous experience that would allow my fiance and I to stay very close to our family.

      The company CEO called the next morning and wanted to let me know that he’d sweetened the pot considerably for me…including a salary $13,000 over the advertised salary and moving expenses for an intrastate move.

      If I’d known more…I would have asked for additional compensation to make up for the fact the benefits here aren’t the greatest. The insurance is costly with costly co-pays and the company contributes nothing to the 401(k)…even though they are already giving me more than they had intended. I didn’t know then, but I do now.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    As a person who is wildly underpaid but extremely happy at a nonprofit, and now hires people for parallel positions to my own, this advice is inspiring. I would add a caution, though…. we list some jobs where the person is supposed to “offer” a salary, even though we have a very specific salary in mind. People who over-shoot too much go straight into the bin. I’d just say know your audience — small non-profits don’t have a ton of space in their budgets, and usually have dozens of applicants, so appearing to be unwilling to work for a smaller salary is something that might not work out too well, even if you actually are willing to work for that smaller salary. I think there’s a great deal more wiggle-room in the private sector, and they will be more likely to negotiate.

    And, on the gender thing, I’d say that men and women applicants for positions at my job seem equally likely/hesitant to ask for higher salaries. Maybe it’s easier on paper.

    • ambi

      Yep. I work for a government office, with our salaries set by the legislature. There really isn’t any room for salary negotiations. We have had a freeze on any raises or cost-of-living increases for the past four years. My boss agrees that my job now is drastically different than it was four years ago, and I need and deserve a raise, but there isn’t really anything they can do. My options are basically stick it out at a lower salary in a job I really like, or leave and go into private practice and make more. For several, non-monetary reasons, I choose to stay where I am.

      Money is SO important. But hopefully we can also include in this conversation the topic of how to balance money with other benefits. For example, my office is extremely family-friendly. I enjoy my work. And while not lucrative, it is stable. So, I have had to make some hard decisions about how I value my worth, but also whether I am willing to make less than what I am worth.

      • kathleen

        Guys, I think you are so so right. And that it’s important to make these things a part of negotiation– asking for more vacation time, or to be able to work remotely (this was part of my current job negotiation, and it means that I’m planning to work from a lakehouse for part of the summer). My bottom line income is less than folks think, but it’s because I have these other things that really fill out my quality of life. That stuff matters.

        • Umpteenth Sarah

          Totally. And, if your org can’t negotiate on salary because of budget, they might be totally able to negotiate on other things that can affect quality of life and your personal time. For example, “I know that the budget is tight, but I was wondering if [given my awesomeness] you might be able to allow me to [work from home 2 days a week, take more maternity leave, give me a private office for reason x, etc etc etc]. It makes you seem flexible, reasonable, and you still get to improve your lot in life even if you can’t improve the size of your paycheck.

          • ambi

            I’ll just add that government work is different, in a lot of ways. There is another discussion below about it, so I won’t go into it too much here. But even a lot of the benefits y’all are talking about (working from home, longer maternity leave, flex schedule, etc.) may not be things that your employer even has the ability to negotiate. Unfoturnately (or fortunately, depending on your political viewpoints, I guess), in this political climate, most government offices have to be very careful not only about money (giving raises is viewed as unpopular government spending), but also about time/schedules/hours, etc. There have been quite a few scandals (at least here in my state), in which politicians were cricized because government employees were “caught” taking time off under their watch. For example, in one instance, a political figure was highly criticized in the media because he gave his employees every other Friday off – the news reports emphasized that these were people on the public payroll who weren’t working when they should have been. We might view it as a different type of benefit of perk that was negotiated (or even just given) in light of their lower-than-market-price salaries. But the bottom line is that government offices have a lot less freedom for negotiating either for salary or even other perks. But there are (in my opinion) a lot of built in perks too. My job, for example, is stable, has sane hours (unlike my private practice counterparts), is lower stress (usually) than private practice, is cooperative rather than competitive, and lets me do really interesting work.

    • Stephanova

      Umpteenth Sarah, that is good to know. I just got a job offer at a non-profit. They gave me the middle of the range they listed in the job posting and I didn’t ask for more because of the non-profit thing. I felt like asking for more would only result in a 2-5% increase in salary (which isn’t THAT) and it seemed silly to press them for it.

      Reading this post was making me feel like maybe I should have asked for more (partially because even the top salary range listed was less than what I made previously)…but I think the rules may be a little different in a non-profit — especially a small one without an HR department. Am I right, or off track? I’d love your input on negotiating salary in a non-profit (or from other folks that are doing the non-profit thing.)

      …or maybe this just comes back to what Nicole and Parsley were discussing above — when you’re in a non-profit/nurturing job position it’s harder to feel like asking for money is the right thing to do because it may mean less funding for people who may need it more.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        If there’s a salary range that they list, I would definitely ask for the high amount. It’s the I’m-asking-for-above-the-highest-amount situation that gets risky (in the interview), at least in my organization. It’s hard to say if there’s a market-standard for this — my non-profit just won’t consider people who push for too much above the salary (although we mostly do this in the interview stage), and there is no negotiation outside of that 2-5% range that you discuss — we don’t have an HR department either.

        But, your non-profit might be different. AND, if you’ve already been offered the job and are negotiating salary, that’s a different ball game — at that point, the worst they can say is no. I really doubt they’d rescind the offer if you asked for a little higher than the offering rate. We certainly wouldn’t (we know we pay less than the people we hire are worth). We just don’t consider interviewing people who ask for way more than we can pay before they’ve had the interview.

        You clearly have a good heart, but I wouldn’t worry about the taking-money-from-folks-who-need-it-more thing. Or, I don’t. Your organization needs smart, talented people who will stick around and not flee to some other job when they get sick of living off below-market rate, and to keep those people I strongly believe they should be fairly compensated. Grants and social work don’t administer themselves, and good compensation helps reduce burnout!

  • First, has there EVER been a prenup focused post on APW? Because that would be some awesomeness.

    Second, YES to the benchmarking. I don’t own a business (YET) but firmly believe that talking about money can only be a good thing. Money’s no secret. It’s money. Numbers are added (or subtracted), choices are made, and there’a balance in the end.

    Thanks so much for getting this conversation started Kathleen!

    I miss having friends nearby that I can talk about even non-business financial things with (because I have friends that are cool like that even if they’re far away). Money is that deep dark secret thing we don’t discuss. …EXCEPT on APW. I’m so excited for this week!

  • Thanks so much, Kathleen for the amazing post! Watching my fiance prepare for grad school to chase his dreams has brought my own abandoned career goals into sharp relief. I’m thrilled to have a place where women are writing about owning their own small businesses.

    There is a question that has been plaguing me though – Would any of you ever use your wedding planning experience in an interview or on your resume to demonstrate your project managment abilities and organizational skills or creativity? Planning our wedding is the biggest project I’ve ever taken on and I feel like it’s been amazing and professionally applicable, but no one ever talks about it at work. I wrote about it on my blog here – http://breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com/2012/02/wedding-planning-as-project-management.html

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      Depends on the job. If it was in event planning or in a job where you need to plan events as a significant proportion of your time, I’d say it’s fairish game for an interview, but other than that I’d try to find something more topically-appropriate to the job.

      I dunno, maybe if you got a positive and friendly vibe from the interviewer, you could bring it up in other scenarios, but I think it falls on the too-personal side for most interview situations.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        My first instincts are with you. (See my somewhat self-effacing way of putting it below.) OTOH, apart from graduate school, my wedding is the biggest expense in my life to date. Unlike grad school, it’s a whole bunch of smaller, varied expenses, instead of single, twice-yearly checks. I don’t know what stereotypically male hobby a man could have that costs an average of $30,000 and coordinates an average of 9 vendor professionals, but I don’t think they’d hesitate to mention a hobby of that size, assuming the skills were transferable. The skills won’t always be transferable, and then I think it is better to think of wedding planning as a hobby, and only mention it in the same way you’d mention a hobby.

        Example: I also bake as a hobby. I’d only mention that in an interview if asked about hobbies, and then I’d end with, “I like it because it’s the opposite of work. At the end, there’s a product I can see and smell and taste, instead of just pieces of paper.”

        • This was what lead me to the question in the first place – I think many people don’t mention it at all. I also had a hard time coming up with examples of jobs where attention to detail, motivational management, and strong organizational and time management skills weren’t imperative, or at least a very, very big plus. There’s also the part where you have to be a strong enough communicator to hand over all of your “stage management tools” (to use the brilliant, APW term) to someone else who can make your vision come to life. Those delegation and communication skills have got to be useful in almost any job

    • Lizzie

      I actually did have this pointed out to me in a professional setting, and by a male engineer none the less (he was our consulting engineer and I was his main contact at my company). When I told him I was engaged, he said that I’d be in good shape with my project management skills, and that they had an ongoing joke at their firm that anytime someone plans a wedding, they should be able to count it among the projects that they’ve managed that qualify them for a promotion. I mean, it’s not as thought they actually do it, but it was nice, affirming perspective to hear. I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to do anything other than make a similar quip about it in an interview, but it’s interesting to think about why not.

      • I agree – why not? I would feel downright silly talking about our wedding in an interview. However, my fiance is designing and drawing all of our paper products. He’s an aspiring architect (currently a designer, heading for school in the fall) and he pops all of those projects right into his portfolio file. I manage a bunch of vendors, volunteers, and the mother of all spreadsheets and I haven’t even thought about adding some new points to my resume. It’s odd, and I can’t quite figure it out.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’m still debating mentioning it in a job interview in this context: Wedding planning has taught me that I love spreadsheets. So much that I’m considering switching from law to accounting. In answer to the obvious “Why the switch?” question, I’d say something like, “It’s a funny story, but I was planning my wedding, and my husband and I realized that while I couldn’t care less about bridesmaids’ dresses or cake flavors, I LOVED working on the budget and comparing vendor proposals. Same thing with preparing my own tax returns. At the same time, I was representing lots of accountants alleged to have committed malpractice, and while I didn’t love reviewing 50,000 pages of workpapers, I still got through it with a smile.”

      • ambi

        My gut reaction is that Elisabethjoanne is on the right track – I’d mention it if it comes up naturally as part of the discussion of a very specific skill or ability (such as working with spreadsheets). I honestly probably wouldn’t put wedding planning on a resume, but you could put the specific skills you aquired without pointing out that they came from wedding planning (reading and negotiating vendor contracts, working with spreadsheets, etc.)

        My experience has been that employers care a lot more about what you are able to do than how you gained those skills. Since using wedding planning as professional experience seems iffy to me (at least some of your prospective employers are not going to get it), I’d focus more on the skills and tools you have, and less on where they came from.

        • I think that in the practical sense, this is absolutely correct. However, it does sort of disturb me that so many of us view one of the toughest projects we’ve ever done as “too fluffy for work”. I wish I knew where that thinking came from, or how we could bust it!

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            Maybe it’s not too “fluffy,” but I found my wedding to be quite personal, and therefore not really something that my employer needed to know about. So, I wouldn’t bring it up even if I did feel that it should get me the job, simply because I wouldn’t want it to be something my future boss was familiar with, at least not till later.

          • Rowany

            I don’t necessarily think it’s wedding-specific. Unless your outside activities directly relate to your job, future employers may not view it as relevant. I think a model train hobbyist would put “attention to detail” on his resume but likewise wouldn’t list it anywhere but the bottom of his resume unless he was applying to work at a toy store. Or a LARPer who leads his/her army through battle could write about his authoritative leadership style but would not put LARP on his resume. I’m not trying to downplay wedding planning at all or make it equivalent to these two examples, they’re just the first to come to mind.
            I’d also like to point out that the important thing of a resume is to be unique. Part of why I would hesitate to add wedding-planning isn’t the fluffiness factor so much as that a large portion of your fellow job applicants would also have that as a qualification. Being married requires communication skills, planning a funeral may also require spreadsheets, raising kids requires time management etc, but as relatively universal life events it’s not really going to distinguish you from the pack. And if it did, you might find yourself losing to a woman who has done all three!

    • Dianne

      You know, quite a few years ago now, I did use the success of planning my own wedding to illustrate my readiness for a corporate communications position where planning employee events was one of the requirements of the job. I was able to illustrate how this prepared me to handle vendor negotiation, budget tracking, volunteer management (aren’t attendants the ultimate volunteers?), time management and attention to detail. AND – I got the job which I LOVED. This was my first corporate communication position after I graduated from college (many years ago!) and it set the course for an amazing fulfilling career so far.

    • Stephanova

      A couple things to keep in mind if you do mention your wedding in an interview, are that you’re discussing your relationship status, possibly your sexuality, and you may be planting the seed — whether they ask it or not (which IS illegal, but I’ve had it happen in interviews anyway) — whether you’re planning on having kids soon. It’s completely inappropriate (and again, ILLEGAL…in the US anyway) so if you do talk about your wedding, keep in mind a graceful way to deflect those kinds of questions if they happen to arise.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        That’s the other half of the “Why accounting?” answer I WON’T be saying: Tax accountants have a 3-month super-busy season, and a 1-month super-busy season, and a lot of down time in between. Auditors go from audit to audit. For me, both are a better environment for being a mother (especially a homeschooling mother; take “summer vacation” during the spring tax season) than litigation, where there’s always several dozen projects/cases going on, and each one lasts several months to a few years.

      • Seeing – and sitting in on – several interviews over the past few years, I’m a lot more sensitive to this now than I used to be. My old boss would never cross the line when it came to asking about relationship status/children/family, etc., but I have seen her toe that line when it comes to paying attention to the rings that people wore, or whether they spoke of a partner or a husband/wife, or mentioned children. Not illegal, but the way she thinks about whether or not a person will take time off to start a family and how it impacts how long they will be in a position definitely has made me think twice about how much I let slide in my next interview. It’s kind of foul.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Throughout wedding planning, I’ve sensed I’m assumed to be a bridezilla, until I redeem myself. We talk lots on APW about how that operates in our personal relationships, but we don’t talk as much about how wedding planning operates in our professional relationships. Part of this is of course it’s not as big a deal professionally. I’m not close to my co-workers; they won’t be invited to my wedding. On some level, the only work-related aspect of wedding-planning is asking for the time off to get the license and take the honeymoon, then coming home and adding him to my insurance, etc.

      BUT my clients see the ring and know I’m engaged. They want to talk about my wedding. Is that “professional”? It’s not like we never discuss anything but business with our clients. [Unlike others, I don’t find my selection of a caterer, etc., very personal, so I’m content to talk about wedding planning with professional acquaintances.] But if word got back to my male bosses that I was “wasting time” talking about my wedding with clients, they wouldn’t like that. “Plan your wedding on your own time.” “The client asked” would not be an acceptable excuse, even if true, because, I feel, we’re assumed to be wedding-obsessed, and at work, it’s hard to redeem yourself by showing yourself interested in something else, too.

      Which is why I’d only bring up the wedding to directly tie into a professional skill or decision in a job interview. Bride=bridezilla, until you show how it’ll make the employer money.

  • When my wife and I started our photography business, we set prices that seemed ‘right’ (that is, not too outrageous to us!) and went with that for a while– until six months later we sat down and looked at the hours and materials that go into a photoshoot or a wedding, taxes, etc., and realized we were actually making LESS than minimum wage per hour when we worked with our clients. After finding that out– which was incredibly shocking to us!– we ended up listing everything out and working backwards, where we set the hourly rate that was acceptable to us for the services we provide and multiplied that by the number of hours we put into our work with each client. It worked WAY better for us that way!

  • I have kind of whiffed both my major salary negotiations.

    1) First job out of school, I was offered a salary that was $10k higher than I was expecting (my expectations were low entry level). I accepted immediately. I still think it was a reasonable offer, but I do think it would have gone up even a few thousand if I’d just asked. That obviously set the base for the percentage-based increases for the next few years. But my manager, who joined after me, and started part time, used my salary as fodder for increasing hers when she found out how much I made — smart woman.
    2) Next job, I did a lot of reading on women and negotiation, etc. I got asked the salary question, and I wasn’t expecting it (it was the first phone screen; I thought it wouldn’t come until a later stage). I flubbed and told the guy my current salary, and that a bump would be nice (UGH). After another interview, he came back with an offer and a $5k bump, which wasn’t nothing, but I was also going to be moving to a much more expensive city, and have fewer benefits. So I tried negotiating then, and I got an offer of about 3k more, AND worked out of the office in my current city. They didn’t previously have any people on my team there, but they made an exception and I was the first. So it did kind of work out.

    Now, I’ve kept my job and now changed cities to where the comparable salaries are lower, but kept my salary. So things are good in that regard, but I wonder how I would be in the current market if I went looking for another job here (though I’m happy right now), because I think I’m now overpaid compared to other people in my field in this city.

    • Shelly

      In my first job out of school, I worked as a temp-to-hire Administrative Assistant. During the 5 week trial period, I found documents highlighting the salary of my predecessor, which was about 7% higher than the temp agency informed me would be the starting salary. But since I knew that the company had already been paying that amount, I figured they’d be willing to continue doing so. When they offered me the position, they weren’t expecting me to negotiate, and while HR balked at the idea, my boss felt that I’d already shown to be worth the extra amount.

      Unique situation, but if you can somehow utilize precedent in an industry or organization in your favor, it helps a lot. When I shifted into a new department in the company, my (male) boss encouraged me to negotiate on salary again. It was really awesome having someone in a position of power validate ne in negotiations, especially when I wasn’t sure that I should!

  • Erin

    This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I am very open with anyone who asks me directly about my income, budgets and how I spend money. I’ve been candid to anyone who has asked over the past 6 or 7 years and have helped a few friends set up budgets. I absolutely believe that talking about our real concrete numbers helps set a benchmark for everyone and helps drive expectations.

    The problem I’ve run into lately is that I make more money than some members of my social circle and that has led to me being silenced during discussions around money. I sometimes worry that my candor has created a divide between friends and hurts our relationship. So anymore I skirt around financial discussions and don’t talk about my financial struggles, or some of my life plans/ambitions because they are met with exasperated eye rolls. I’d love to find a new outlet for these discussions because I do feel that they are important but I don’t want to damage anymore friendships by having them.

  • Hooray for this post! Seriously, we do need to talk more about money, and OMG is it ever uncomfortable.

    So, I’m in kind of a weird situation and I’m hoping someone with more experience could weigh in. I’m currently in academia and am making the switch to government work. In a few weeks, I have my second round interview with several agencies to find the right “fit” for my skills/interests with their priorities/projects. My “salary” (it’s really a stipend, since this is technically a fellowship) is brokered by the third party that administers the fellowship. Because of this third party, and because it is ultimately a government job, I was told up-front: you will be making X, based on your Z number of years since PhD and your current annual earnings. Some other fellows coming from other backgrounds (like medicine) are in a different salary/stipend band based on their previous (higher) earnings.

    I feel like this is pretty set in stone and there is no room for negotiation…though that could change with the fellowship renewal in a year v. taking a negotiated real job offer at that point within the same agency.

    Has anyone else ever dealt with this situation? Is there anything about these positions that is negotiable? More importantly, since I feel a bit locked into my current salary based on the govt salary bands/my previous earnings, how do avoid getting locked into these things moving forward…like for my next job after this? I don’t want that to be locked into the earnings from this current position.

    • Rowany

      I’m not in a higher position, but from experience–almost anything is negotiable. Especially since previous salary earnings is a pretty poor approximation of your worth, if you have reason to think that you deserve more (tip: write them down and use them in negotiations), ask for it. Be ready if they say no–that doesn’t mean negotiations are over. Ask why they base their salaries in this way and ask how you could show them you deserve the same as an ex-medicine person. Or instead ask for something to be put in your contract so that your salary is re-examined within 6 months or a 1 year and compared with colleagues at your same level, rather than your previous work experience. Think of things that aren’t salary that you would also like, in terms of PTO, benefits etc. Good luck!

    • Martha

      I’m somewhat familiar with this set-up, but I haven’t had to deal with the 3rd party negotiations. As far as gov’t jobs go, there really is a set scale, and your GS level is determined by things that are set in stone (I’m assuming this is federal?). However, within that level, there are steps, and you can negotiate where you land on those steps. Also make sure that you look at the GS scale, and that you’re really where you need to be – mistakes can happen, and that would be an expensive, long-lived one.

      • ambi

        With government work, especially federal government work, the formula really is very strict and there is little room for negiations – but there is room to move up into different positions! At least my experience has been that, while your GS level and the salary formula for your position will pretty much determine what you make in that position, you have a lot of potential for promotion from within the agency (or to another agency) to positions with higher salary ranges and different calculations. Everyone I know that works for the federal government got to their current position after moving up or laterally at least half a dozen times.

        Also, triple check every element of the GS level and other considerations that will go into their salary calculation. In the past, I was able to get them to take things into account to increase my GS level/salary calculation (for example, another advanced degree I have that isn’t necessary or exactly on point for this particular job, but can be used to raise the GS level, or time spent working while also in school – so essentially, you get experience years that overlap with your education years). Just work with the formula they give you, and do your best to fit your experience and education into it in the way that is most beneficial – don’t be shy to argue that the time you spent teaching, for example, counts as experience, if you can demonstrate how it contributed to the skills they are now seeking.

      • Thanks for this – yes, it is a federal fellowship. I am fairly certain that the stipend is set in stone but I will take a careful look at the GS level and steps within it to see if there is some wiggle room.

        In any case, even the low end of the level I’m at is a big step up from my current earnings in academia, so that’s good. I just read so much about how women sell themselves short, that I worry about jobs where there is so little room to do something about that. I am perfectly OK with what is on offer for this fellowship, I just want to be careful not to let that lock me into a whole career of making less than I am worth – the next step from fellowship to a negotiated job will be crucial I think.

        • Marina

          I moved from a stipended to negotiated job, and in my experience people are pretty understanding that people are underpaid at stipended jobs. Salary at previous jobs is one way of demonstrating what you’re worth, but it’s not the only way. You just need to put extra focus on the other ways that demonstrate what you’re worth.

  • Atlas

    I’d like to know more about speaking openly with other women about money. It’s always been such a taboo subject that I’m not sure how to start those conversations. Does anyone have ideas bringing up this tricky topic?

    This is a great great great post, I love it! This is why I keep coming back to APW even though I’m already married.

    • This is hard. The only way I’ve been able to do it is to just bite the bullet and do it.

      Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone what they make. I have asked, for instance, what they pay in rent, which gives me some idea of their income. I tend to start this conversation like this: “wow, this is such a great apartment/car/whatever. I realize this might be a personal question, so please don’t feel obligated to respond if you’d rather not, but do you mind if I ask what you paid for it?” I have ALWAYS gotten an enthusiastic response to this line of questioning – it comes off as a compliment (which it is!), it’s lets the other person off the hook so they don’t feel any pressure (people LOVE to tell you how they got a great deal on something – “great deal” is relative to financial security), and in my experience at least, it opens the door to more discussion of money, and often advice on how I can move my own finances in the same direction.

      Of course, I’ve never really directly inquired about salaries – I am far too chicken, and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten advice I could put to work…but that’s my cash-flow problem, not theirs. I’ve gotten lots of good advice on what to do with any spare income…problem is, I just don’t have any at the moment.

    • meg

      Just ask! It’s not taboo once you start talking. I’ve done a line by line comparison of household budgets with a girlfriend, which is SO USEFUL.

    • I think you have to find someone(s) who are comfortable sharing what they make, and finding out what you make. Someone’s going to have a higher salary, and unless you can be happy for them, and they can be happy for you, depending on who it is, then you can start that conversation. I also find it’s very cultural. The boy (American) absolutely does not want to know his coworkers’ salaries, or for them to know his. But they (French, Italian, Swedish) have no problem talking about it openly. They think he’s funny about it — I guess it’s just not a taboo subject for them.

    • ambi

      Use some of the stuff from this post! If you want to talk about business/salary, start out by talking about how you’ve been reading a lot lately about how women, in particular, sell ourselves short. Talk about how important it is to openly discuss numbers and benchmarks. If the person seems receptive, go for it and ask for specifics. And be prepared to share yours!

      • kathleen

        Yes yes yes– and talk goals. I’ve found women can be uncomfortable talking about current income/debt/etc, but that it can be easier to talk about where they want to be. These conversations lead to the good, meat-y questions– how do we move from one income bracket to another? how do we ask for money? how do we pay off debt?

        I find those conversations are easier to enter, and actually full of good information, and lead to women-helping-women in the planning of our lives– all such great, important stuff, and a way to enter the harder, numbers based conversations.

    • Lara

      Yeah, you just gotta dive in. I’ve always believed that the only way to deal with things I’m uncomfortable with is to talk about them. Over and over. Maybe the first time it’s over drinks? That certainly makes things feel less uncomfortable in other realms of life. :)

      I think, too, by talking about it, you lose some of your hang-ups about it and really learn how you feel. You get more comfortable each time and then by the time you’re ready to negotiate, talking about money feels so easy.

      Hey–you know what. We don’t know each other at all. Want to chat about money? I’m so happy to. laratsmith (at) gmail . com

      I would also recommend checking out LearnVest–it’s a great website devoted to women and money.

    • I don’t have any tips . . . just a thought. I know for my circle, we’re all in different industries — finance, fashion, publishing, non-profit . . . so what person A makes isn’t even relevant to person D. There’s no way that the salary is going to be comparable. How they got to that salary (negotiation/x amount more than their past position/etc.) might be pertinent and extremely helpful, much more so than the actual number.

  • SO, SO, SO glad you are doing this series! I just went through a job search and salary negotiation process, and I feel like women are too often doing it in the dark. (Like that feeling when you go to the bathroom at night and don’t turn the light on, and you’re just praying that you won’t walk into something sharp.)

    My go-to site has been glassdoor.com. They have salary reviews/reveals from actual people who work at actual companies. It doesn’t work as well for the entrepreneurial/small business crowd, but it’s great if you’re working for (or looking to work for) a mid-size to larger company.

    Also: LinkedIn. It’s amazing. When I was applying for my last job, I went onto the LinkedIn group of my alma mater and asked for help. (I was freaking out because the company was in a different sector than I was used to and was much more corporate.) Before you could blink, three women offered to review my resume and do a mock interview with me. One of them was a recruiter! When was the last time you got a recruiter to look over your resume for free!? It was a huge help to me – both practically and in terms of confidence.

    I think there should be an APW LinkedIn group! (I would be glad to help with the efforts.)

    • Seconding the motion for an APW LinkedIn group. My trust/respect threshold for this community is so high, I would love to tap into some professional advice from all the ladies here.

      • I’m tempted to start an APW Army group, but I’m not affiliated with the site, so I don’t know if it would count!

      • I’ll third! I’m a recruiter and I’d be more than happy to look over resumes for APW ladies.

        • Hi Emily – can I email you about this? I clicked over to your blog but didn’t find a contact email there.

  • This is totally random, but does anyone watch Auction Hunters? Watch that for a stellar example of how negotiation works. Those guys know exactly what to offer and how to counter to get the price that they want. I definitely thought of them when it came time to think salary.

  • I’m very grateful for this post and excited about the possibilities it opens up. I would like to go further than money discussions. I am currently looking for a peer mentor to share my business building plans with on a weekly basis. I am considering setting up a peer mentoring group. I think it’s vital that we support each other, share our wisdom, help each other get over mental, emotional and financial hurdles.

    I am based in South Wales (UK) you live nearby and are interested in talking, please do get in touch: hello@actsofbeauty.co.uk

    My personal situation: I need to work out how to structure and present a multi-strand arts business and how to manage my time, plus some confidence building wouldn’t go amiss.
    Thanks Kathleen!

  • What was it someone said in Atlanta? The amount of money you ask for at first should make you sick to say out loud. Something along those lines, anyway.

  • This post, and whole discussion, has me thinking about my mother. She’s the person in my life who has pushed me to be more aggressive and ask for more in salary negotiations. She’s not usually someone I turn to for money advice – but career advice? Salary advice? Yes. She’s brilliant in that respect.

    It makes me want to find all the other female, career role models in my life and ask them about salary negotiations and having the confidence to ask for more money. I’m willing to bet I’d learn a lot.

  • Lana

    Just curious, money was never a subject that was discussed for me growing up and I feel like it’s kind of left me stunted on the issue (and only now, after years of not knowing, I’m finally figuring this all out). Is that a girl thing, a midwest thing, or a thing specific to my family? (‘Cause if it’s a girl thing or a regional thing that’s BS and we need to work on changing that.)

    Also, I’d just like to second the issue of talking to people about salaries/rates/deals. I work freelance and was grossly underpaid for years (probably due to my above mentioned aversion to talking about money, lack of knowledge about negotiating, and my naive, boss-trusting, midwestern ideals of: they’ll give me a promotion when I’ve earned one). I’ve only recently started earning what I’m worth because a few of my co-workers (one male and one female) each asked me the uncomfortable questions about money and flat out told me that I deserved a promotion and don’t take less than $X for it. What what?! You mean my bosses aren’t looking out for my best interest, they care more about the bottom line? But now I know it’s true, I do a d*mn good job and I am worth it (and I have been paid it).

    • Good for you!

      There is a LOT of research out there that says young women are routinely under-educated as compared to young men in terms of personal finances. On top of that, I would say that family and regional culture can go a long way to overriding this tendency…or toward reinforcing it, depending. So don’t feel bad, but yeah, this is something we need to work on as a society.

      • Laura

        I feel so, so lucky that my mother taught me how to balance a checkbook at the age of 16, and how to handle a credit card at the age of 18. Many of my friends weren’t so lucky, and today have no clue how to handle their personal finances.

        • I’ve been able to balance a check book since 7th grade math class, and I *still* feel like I am flying blind when it comes to my personal finances. Part of that is just that I have been living on hand-to-mouth wages since graduating from college – it’s hard to feel like you’ve got a handle on things when *every* expense makes things so precarious…but it’s also that I just don’t *know* what to do with more money when/if I happen to have some.

          I took a planning for retirement course via my employer last year – it was eye-opening, and I’m glad I did that. But it was also pretty discouraging to meet with the financial advisor for some one-on-one advice only to have him say, “I really don’t know that I can do anything for you with your income since all of your money is going toward living expenses/debt reduction – you really don’t have much to put toward saving. Also, you probably should not have a wedding. Those are expensive.”

          Thanks for the help, buddy!

    • ambi

      It is a family thing for me. My family didn’t talk about money, or how to manage money, basically because they didn’t have any and didn’t know how to manage it themselves. My partner’s family taught both him and his sister, from a very early age, how to manage money, and kept them informed about household finances, big financial decisions, etc. In his twenties, my partner was already saving aggressively for retirement and had invested some money (and he was NOT wealthy – he was making less than I was, just managing it much better). It has taken him a long time to realize that I didn’t grow up with the same financial education, and I literaly don’t understand about 60% of what he is talking about. he used to think I was choosing to spend my money the way I did, but now he realizes that I had no clue about what I should be doing. To me, financial education is unbelievably important. For those of us who have never been exposed to any of this until we are out of school and earning a salary, it is really confusing.

  • Jen

    Also on this topic, I highly reccommend the book “Knowing Your Value” by Mika Brezinski from the MSNBC morning show Morning Joe. Brezinksi explains and discusses the common pitfalls women stubble upon when dealing with issues of compensation-even highly successful and well known women! She discusses this in a rather amusing manner through her own personal exprience of trying to get a raise 3 times and failing. She eventually was able to negotiate a salary that she thought was worthy of her value :) Brezinski interviews tons of women on this subject. It has definitly changed how I think about my compensation and how I will in the future approach such topics. It is now included in every graudation gift that I give for the important women in my life!


    Kathleen, thanks for this great post. We had a heart-wrenchingly difficult pre-nup process and I really wish there had been a community of women struggling with the same issues. I guess there was really, right here, but I was new to APW at the time and wasn’t quite confident enough to figure out how to reach out to you all at that point… We ended up having to turn to someone outside our circle of family and friends who could help us find solutions we hadn’t considered and help mediate a little, and it was tough. I’d be more than happy to chat offline with you about what a struggle pre-nups are so if you (or anyone else) wants to talk this through a little, just let me know.

    • kathleen

      Jessica- this is so sweet of you. I can’t even tell you how many times I read and re-read the one APW pre-nup post (and it’s millions of comments). I was able to find a few women in Atlanta to talk with prior to meeting with our lawyer so I’m feeling good (we’re just about through the process). It was so hard to find women who would talk to me about it though (and I have a pretty massive network due to working only with women)– I found that so few women had a pre-nup, and the ones that did often just weren’t comfortable talking about it. It was a big surprise to me. Though I will say, I’ve made an effort to share my process with friends and clients, and a few friends (two in particular) have really changed how they are talking about and planning financially with their fiances. I’m so sorry your experience was rough– and thanks again for the nice offer.

    • H

      Jessica and/or Kathleen, I’d be interested in talking to you about this at some point, and I really appreciate the offer. I’ve been thinking about some finances issues recently with my soon-to-be-official fiancé.
      nellaeh@hotmail.com is the email address I use for coupons and stuff – email me there, and I’ll give you more information on how to contact me.

  • Granola

    I’m thrilled to see this post and discussion on APW today! Negotiating is really hard, and I’m pretty sure I suck at it. However, here are some things I’ve picked up in the past year of full-time freelancing:

    – A good rule of thumb is that if you’re contracting, your hourly rate should be 1.6 times the hourly rate of a full-time employee, to compensate for the benefits you’re not getting and extra taxes you’re paying. Less than that, and they’re undercutting their employees.

    – Another good freelance rule: Take the number you want to make in a year, let’s say $45K and divide by 1000, that’s roughly the billable hours you can expect to be able to do in a year (because you’ll have a good deal of unpaid administrative work) and that’s your hourly rate, in this case 45,000/1000 = $45/hour. I also am more willing to negotiate if there is little uncompensated admin work with a particular project.

    – I always feel better when I have more information, like the rule of thumb above, salary ranges for the position and location, etc. When I can justify what I want, I always feel like I’m in a stronger negotiating position.

    – Check out Asktheheadhunter.com. It’s a blog written by former headhunter Nick Corcodillos, and he’s really big on proving your value and finding opportunities through personal connections. After wasting umpteen miserable hours for a year out of college applying for jobs online, I just stopped. None of my jobs have ever come that way (most online job boards have placement rates of 2% or lower) and it just made me miserable.

    – Lastly, I try really hard to just not take things personally. This is a job, and a negotiation, it’s not about my or their hurt feelings. I really really hate to disappoint people, so I back down pretty quickly – at the first sign of hesitation. Often, this is just someone thinking it over.

    I’d love to talk more about this with anyone who is interested. I’m possibly starting a new full-time job in the next month and the idea of negotiating a salary and benefits terrifies me. I’m used to being on the bottom rung of “this is what we’ve budgeted for the position.” and needing a job so I don’t have leverage. My email is alexandrahazlett at gmail.com. Let’s keep the conversation going.

  • Jen

    I’ve half written a prenup post about our relatively painless prenup process, I might even finish it someday…

    • kathleen

      Jen- pretty pretty please do! As I mentioned above, I read and re-read that one APW post and it’s comments so many times….we could use more examples (and scripts!) to follow.

  • Rowany

    I loooove getting more women to negotiate! One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet: In general, women take negotiations more personally–we’re afraid of rejection, and confrontation, and being seen as selfish. One of the points from “Women Don’t Ask” that really helped me is that not only is negotiating beneficial to us, but it’s also beneficial to the people we ask from. Our significant others and employers can’t read our minds, and on the whole they want to make our lives easier, if only we could let them know how. Our employers might not necessarily want to give us more money but they do want to recognize people for hard work, promote competent employees and reduce staff turnover – it makes their lives managing people easier and in the long run it saves money. So now, when I ask for help with the dishes at home or for better hours or a new computer at work, I think that in making my own life easier, I am also helping my significant other and employer. That also helps me not to take “no” less personally, since in my negotiation I want to benefit both parties, not just me–I often then go back and see why they said no and if it could be turned into a yes. Learning the “why” is great, because it shows they’re really not rejecting YOU, and you can learn more about what the needs and motivations are of the other person.

    The other tip is to look around and think of everything as being negotiable. A negotiation consultant tells me she still practices negotiation all the time, asking for off-the-menu dishes, a different seat at a restaurant Another way I think of it is; if something can be on sale at a store or offered on groupon, it’s probably negotiable. TVs at Bestbuy, hotels in off-peak season etc.

    • Kari

      One reason to set your price higher than you expect, as Kathleen says, is that it’s relationship-building for the other person to see you come down in your price. They will likely view you more positively when they see you will come down from your initial price.

      Also, I love the point of negotiating to get a better outcome for both parties. The person who taught my negotiation seminar gave the example of her nanny–in negotiations, she offered to give the nanny three weeks of time off that SHE chose or three days that the nanny chose. Three random days off would actually be harder for the instructor to accommodate since they would likely overlap with her busy schedule. On the other hand, the instructor builds in three weeks of vacation for the family every year, and it’s not a problem at all for her to give that time off for a nanny.

    • This is so true, and you’re right that it spills over into life in general, not just at work.

      A few years ago, I was feeling really overwhelmed by all the stuff I had going on in my life, in addition to finishing my degree. I don’t remember where I read this, but somewhere I came across the idea that it is perfectly OK to ask for help, or for someone to do something for you, as long as you are also perfectly OK with the answer being “no”. Basically, stop worrying about protecting other people’s boundaries for them – that’s their job. Your job is to protect your own boundaries (I’m thinking about time sunk into a project here), and you can do that by asking for help/delegating. And other people can decide whether or not they have time to help/take something on for you.

      This was revolutionary thinking for me.

      You’d be surprised how often the answer is “yes” when you just ask, and I think that this can be a big part of negotiation once you have the job – how many team members do I have on this project?

  • bookgeekgirl

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I have long been frustrated by the secrecy about money in our society. I feel like there’s this taboo about talking too openly about money, which doesn’t help any of us (though it sure does seem to help corporations keep salaries lower).
    I’ve always struggled with negotiating, and there are some really good tips here. Does anyone have advice on what to do when an employer takes negotiating personally, though? I asked for a raise a few years back, and got a serious guilt trip from my boss (the company prez) — “don’t you recognize the opportunities we’ve given you . . . ” etc. He seemed personally insulted that I dared to suggest that a raise might be appropriate (I was taking on a new position, at the time, and was seriously underpaid — 15 or 20K under average yearly salary in my field for the metro area where I live, after 4+ years with the company.) It was awful, and has totally put me off from pushing for additional money / benefits since then.

    • Jo

      My thought on the guilt-trip response by your boss: He’s taking advantage of you. To be blunt, I’d say to get out of there and start looking for a job where you’re properly respected. In Dan Savage terms, it’s a “DTMFA” situation. ;-)

      I’ve certainly worked places where I’ve been underpaid. Sometimes the boss simply doesn’t know what appropriate market rates are. Sometimes the boss simply wants to get the cheapest labor possible b/c he/she hasn’t figured out how to appropriately charge clients and therefor doesn’t have enough $ to pay employees. Sometimes I’ve accepted these situations because of other benefits that I’ve received from the experience, but I feel it’s important to make it clear to the boss that I am aware of how underpaid I am and that I am CHOOSING to do this job for them DESPITE it.

      But bottom-line, guilt-tripping and making it personal when you ask for an appropriate market-rate raise is simply manipulative and disrespectful. If anything, THEY are the ones who deserve the guilt trip!

    • Rowany

      I don’t know your specific situation but I’m betting that he didn’t REALLY take it personally, and that you remember the incident far better than he does. Unless you work at a small company that’s barely surviving and barely able to pay its employees, that kind of reaction rings less personal and more like “playing the game”. Despite what I mentioned in my previous comment, there are some people who view negotiation as a zero-sum game, and who really LIKE it that way. In fact, they are likely to respect you less if you back down like that, since you “withdrew from the game.” The key is to not take what they say personally, and to try to turn the conversation away from the zero-sum game. Acting offended is an easy ‘out’ for not having to explain why they said no (for which they may not have many legitimate reasons). I would definitely read the book “Ask for it” for suggestions on how to approach a raise again. Off the top of my head I would find available jobs in your metro area in your field offering a higher salary – it would likely cost them more to hire someone else than it would be to give you the raise you want.

      Also, the reality is that talking about money isn’t REALLY taboo, for example, among men; in general their networks are great at discussing money and they don’t think twice about knowing how much their colleagues make. I would definitely talk to your colleagues outside of work. If they all (male and female) are not getting paid enough, that suggests that your company has a general policy against raises (ergo not personal, but may make you reconsider how much further you can go at the company). If the some colleagues at the same level I would ask them if they asked for raises, and if so, what was the response. If they also heard an “offended” comment and they just asked again and pushed harder, then it was likely just a negotiation tactic (again, not personal). If only the women received such comments, then you might be in an environment with double-standards against women (not personal, but toxic).

      Of course I may be wrong and he really was hurt, but you still deserve a raise and arming yourself with all this information will help you try again no matter what.

    • Liz

      Also, BookGeekGirl, consider this: can you, in a million jillion years, imagine him pulling that s(*t with a man?

    • Marina

      Even if your boss takes it personally, you don’t have to take his offense personally. Because asking for a raise isn’t personal, it has zero to do with “recognizing the opportunities you’ve been given”. You can’t control how your boss feels.

      (Also, opportunities for what? Making $20k less than you should? What kind of opportunity is that??)

    • Jenn

      Late to the party, but quite frankly irate on behalf of both you and 6 years ago me. At the time, I worked at a tiny company that had recently been purchased by a slightly larger company. The CEO of tiny company (who, you know, probably made a bit of cash during the transition) called me disloyal when I asked for a raise, didn’t receive one, and left the company to make more money.

      I think my reaction was “I’m sorry, what?”

      At the time I had about 20-25k in credit card, loan, and family debt to pay back. Tiny company billed me out at Y and I collected 6% of that while working 60+ hours per week and traveling 90% of my time.

      I was offered a 65% raise (not a typo) to change jobs in the same industry, which I took. I was out of debt in less than 12 months.

      So. F loyalty. F guilt trips. If Boss 1 doesn’t give you what you want/need/deserve, replace his sorry a–.

  • Danielle

    This post and all the comments have been so great! I am a firm believer that we need to get better at knowing our worth and feeling comfortable negotiating salary and raises. As a social worker, I work so hard at supporting my client’s in being able to advocate for themselves, however I know that social workers as a whole struggle with salary negotiations themselves. Especially being in a field that is predominantly women we are expected to *accept* working for limited compensation just because we care for our clients (which of course I do, but I gotta pay rent and maybe even save a little!). When I first looked for jobs after graduate school, I found this resource particularly useful (http://socialworkpodcast.blogspot.com/2008/12/salary-negotiation-interview-with.html).

    As a recently married and recently pregnant APW-er, I would be interested in hearing from professional women who have had to negotiate maternity leave and returning-to-work conditions as a new mom.

    • Anne

      YES! My husband and I are still a few years out from starting a family, but we’re really trying to figure out the finances of maternity leave.

    • Marina

      I just returned from maternity leave… I don’t know that I have a lot of negotiating advice, though, because my work has been super supportive. To the point where when I first told my boss that I was expecting, the first thing he said was “Congratulations!” and the second was “You should plan on taking a full three months of maternity leave.” I actually brought my baby into the office for the first time today and it went super well. Even if she did spit up all over my boss’s shirt. At least she waited until 4:30pm…?

      Okay, actually I do have some negotiating advice. 1) Know your legal rights. I’m not familiar with much outside the US (except that I swear it seems like most places have way better benefits than us…) but here there are laws about how much leave you can take, how long you have to be working at a company before you take it, what you can expect when you return, etc. I was able to get part of my leave paid through short-term disability insurance too. 2) Know your company culture. Has anyone else at your company taken parental leave? What did they do? How did their coworkers/supervisors react? Do they have suggestions for you? I found out one of my coworkers had taken her baby to work with her all day, every day, for the first four months–I don’t know that I would have had the courage to take my baby in at all if I hadn’t known that. 3) Follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice: don’t leave before you leave.

      If you want I could totally try and answer questions by email too… marina@nbtsc.org

  • I love this post and this whole for richer and poorer discussion. Again with the timing you guys!

    Literally this week, my grandfather, who is also my boss at his accounting firm, offered to financially back my company that I’ve been running on the side (spending 10 hour days at the office, 1 hour each way communtes and then up until 2am sewing dresses not to mention eating, sleeping, and walking the dogs somewhere in there doesn’t exactly lend itself to growing a company) In three weeks however, I will be running my own business full time and the one thing my business partner and I are having trouble with is pricing! Doing the research we are finding bridal designers are either unbelievably cheap or ridiuclously overpriced. Any other designers out there have any advice!? Or brides? How much would you pay for an eco-friendly, Canadian-made gown?

    • Granola

      What if you went the other way? How much do your materials cost? How much time do you spend making each dress – and what’s the hourly labor rate you want? Is there sunk cost in each dress design, and how will you build that into the price of each dress? And presumably you’ll get more efficient if you’re making repeats of a style. Basically, what’s the sort of “break even” point for your labor and materials.

      On top of that, how can you differentiate yourself? Is your turnaround time faster? The materials are eco-friendly, so probably more expensive. If you don’t have a storefront yet, perhaps your overhead is lower and that will allow you to keep your prices down. Could you browse Etsy to get an idea of price ranges? When I’m shopping on the internet, I don’t generally think of where a particular person is, but I also know that I trust people in the US (and presumably Canada) a little more because they’re closer and I feel like I kind of know them or someone like them, in a way.

      You might also want to lower your prices to start with to compensate for being a relatively untried shop… I could keep going but this seems like a bit more of an email conversation. I’m happy to keep brainstorming if you’d like to talk over it more. Best of luck!!! This is so exciting!

  • Liz

    Thank you a million times for this post – it is SO clear and helpful, and something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’ve only this year begun talking with women friends about salary numbers (why do women not talk about this WHY?) and it’s so essential.

    I had no idea how badly underpaid I was as an editor, for example, until I screwed my courage to the sticking point and told my then-girlfriend how much I was making at a Big Six publisher in 2007 ($41k as a full-fledged editor working 70 hr weeks, YES I KNOW) and she audibly gasped, that I realized I was worth more and needed to start looking.

  • Lara

    As a nonprofit arts manager, I also want to address some of what’s being discussed here about nonprofit salaries. I have to say–the only reason someone has ended up in my “no” pile based upon salary requirement was because we hadn’t even asked for it yet and they were $20k over. I think the fact that we hadn’t asked yet indicated to me that she wasn’t moving on that. And that’s fine!

    So don’t think you can’t negotiate with a nonprofit. Just be honest about what you’re willing to accept and what you’re not. Because they’d rather hire someone who wants to be there and wants to work hard (including for the money) and you’d rather work somewhere you feel like you’re being respected and appreciated.

    The other thing to recognize is that often when someone says — I quit because I wasn’t being paid enough (or something similar), there are usually underlying issues. The money represents something to that person. And I would really recommend digging into what money represents to you. Is it respect? Is it appreciation? Are you using it as a comparison? Because as something I recently pinned on pinterest says — comparison is the thief of happiness. All this information gathering we’re doing is to be used for own benefit and not create some sort of line-up about where we stand in the field/with our friends/etc.

    So yes, negotiate always. But also dig into why that money is important to you. And what sort of lifestyle you’re trying to create. Your negotiations will mean so much more if you have a clear plan for what to do with that money.

    Yay money talk!!

  • Karen

    Just wanted to throw in for discussion on debt that debtors anonymous can be a great place to start looking at your relationship with money and debt.

    My favorite money and relationships book is : Your Money or Your Life. It clearly and succintly breaks down how long it takes (in hours) to buy things you are wanting. It’s a really great book that helps readers understand their own priorties.

    And, how this especially relates to relationships is knowing what’s important to you and what is non-negotiable. In my last relationship I settled for less than what I truly wanted. I did not give myself the credit I deserved in terms of being with someone who loves and values me as a person. That relationship helped me to see the ways I didn’t “negotiate” for what I wanted. Always know what is most important to you, where you’re willing to compromis, and where you have to say to youself and to the other person, “I am worth more than this.”

    • Marina

      Just wanted to throw in that reading “Your Money or Your Life” is probably not a good idea when you’re making minimum wage… Spending 3 hours on your feet to buy a pair of socks is just depressing.

  • Yes yes yes. More of this! I’ve never really been in a true negotiating situation, but even the idea of quoting a salary range makes me queasy. The one time I had to do it (last November when I FINALLY got out of retail and into a corporate job! Hooray I have a career!!!) I requested 2,500-5,000 more than what they wanted to give me, which, given I had zero experience in this field, was totally fine with me. I accepted their offer, because it was STILL more than what I had hoped for, and was MUCH more than what I had been making previously.

    But in hindsight, it feels kind of good to have had the gumption to even ask for that much, to know that I can.

    I am terrible at budgeting. I don’t know why something so Type A escapes me, but it does. I have a vague notion of what Rent, Bills, Credit Card Debt, and Student Loans cost me each month, and while everything gets paid (and in the case of my credit card, gets well over the minimum requirement)…something still isn’t clicking.

    It’s like…if I have extra money, I throw it all towards my credit card bill, because I so desperately want to get that cleaned up, but as a result, I have zero savings. I just can’t justify putting money into a savings account when my credit card bill is over $6000. I guess that’s not entirely true…I did enroll in my work’s 401k, so at least that’s something, right?

    Any advise for someone who is excellent at budgeting in theory, and terrible at budgeting in practice?

    • Not Sarah

      Good job on enrolling in your 401(k)! So many people forget that key step :)

      Instead of looking at it as budgeting, look at it as creating a plan for how you’re going to spend your money. But first? Track your spending for several months. Figure out what bills recur every month (e.g. rent, cell phone), which ones once a year (e.g. insurance), which ones bimonthly, and approximately how much you’re spending on more variable amounts like food. After a few months, then you should be able to see better where your money is going. Until then (if you can not spend the money), just keep everything in your checking account.

      Once you have an idea of how much you “normally” spend per month, you should put some money into a savings account with your checking account for emergency reserves. I think the general suggestion is to start with $1,000. Figure out what is “extra” in your checking account (i.e. beyond your normal monthly spending) and put the first $1,000 or whatever you think would help in an emergency into this savings account and then throw the rest (if there is some leftover) at your credit card. From now on, throw any extra money at your credit card until it’s paid off! (Make sure you’re not using it at ALL during this process either.)

      And then once you’ve paid off the credit card, you can put as much into savings up until you have a point you are more comfortable with! Personally, I like having 6 months of full expenses (but that took quite awhile to save up…).

      You should be able to figure out how many months it will take you to pay off your credit card with the following formula:

      (Net paycheck – Monthly spending) / Credit card amount owing

      Is that what you were looking for? Or are you looking for something else?

      • Hi Not Sarah!

        Thanks for all the tips! For the most part, I have *how* to budget under control. It’s actually making myself stick to it that I have trouble with. I think I just need to start keeping an envelope of receipts and totaling them at the end of the week, or maybe keep a written log of every single thing I purchase throughout the week, so spending money is something that I actually take time to think about, instead of justifying it without really considering whether or not I *need* something.

        • Not Sarah

          Hmmm. If you’re having troubles sticking with it, either:

          a) You’re not conscious of what you’re spending
          or b) Your budget isn’t really in line with what your financial/life priorities are

          I found that keeping a written log was a terrible idea for me since I don’t keep a notebook on me at all times, but I have a smartphone and I use a Remember the Milk list to enter my receipt amounts for the places that don’t give me receipts. That helps me to be a bit more conscious of my spending. I also *always* take receipts (my friends think I’m crazy) because it’s really easy to just a note down on it like “John gave me $30 cash to cover his part” or something or write a category on it. ALSO, receipts have times on them, which helps me tell whether it was breakfast/lunch/dinner/late-night snack.

          Maybe try entering your numbers against the budget once a week or another frequency that will make you more conscious of it? I’m at a point now where I think actively in my head “How much is available in that budget line?” before buying something. I still enter the numbers once a week though since that makes me more conscious of what I’m spending.

          I’ll try to remember to comment on your blog in case you want my email address :)

        • em_perk

          I’m super late to the convo, but I use mint.com religiously for managing our budget. It’s a super helpful, totally free tool that gives me easy visibility on every single one of my husband’s and my checking accounts, savings accounts and (mostly unused) credit cards.

  • Yes can there PLEASE be a post on prenups!!!

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