On a hot Saturday evening in July, my friend Tina and I sat together at her celebratory dinner. We discussed the role she'd accepted as a catering manager for the hot new delivery restaurant that had just opened, Speedy Greens. Her enthusiasm was contagious; I could tell she couldn't wait to get back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for the previous six years. Detailing every responsibility she'd assume at work, I smiled as if she were a kid rattling off her Christmas wish list.

She was thrilled to be joining the job market again, after leaving a growing marketing career and moving to Dallas to start a family. We discussed the logistics of balancing family and work when the topic of childcare came up. "Well, really, the only downside is that my paycheck seems to be going straight to childcare. There's not a whole lot left over once that's paid," Tina said. Concerned but not wanting her to feel uncomfortable, I asked, "if you don't mind telling me, what's the annual salary you agreed to?," to which she sheepishly replied, "they offered me $27,000, so I took it. And I know I'll have a lot of responsibility and direct reports, but this is a great opportunity to grow my career again. I'm just thankful they took a chance on me. I really wanted to ask for more, but i didn't want to seem greedy and lose out on a job I really wanted."

Sadly, Tina's situation is typical with that of many women in the workplace.

According to a study conducted in conjunction with researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University, women negotiate for themselves less often than men do for fear of being punished when perceived as being 'too pushy' or 'too demanding'. However, the study also found that when women were asked to negotiate for a friend, they didn't fear punishment for their request. In fact, the women who negotiated for their friends were not hesitant at all to assertively negotiate salary (complying with the stereotype that women are nurturing caretakers who look after the needs of others).

Unfortunately, though, when women negotiate a higher salary for themselves, their fears are warranted. Researchers found that men and women alike held biases against female job contenders who initiated salary negotiations for themselves.

The moral of the story is that women have a genuine, legitimate concern of contradicting traditional gender stereotypes of being agreeable and accommodating. There is a positive side, though: the results affirmed that women are not less skilled negotiators or less assertive than men. Instead, women tend to accept the salary offered as a protective mechanism, which is founded on the accurate assumption they'll be penalized for going against gender-based norms.

So, what was my advice to Tina- and other women- moving forward?

  1. Know your numbers: When initiating a salary negotiation, conduct a market analysis of the industry and your position. Reference objective standards that are difficult to ignore, or deny.
  2. Request an introductory pay: If immediate negotiations aren't looking favorable, a review with a merit increase be written in your offer.
  3. Make a positive impression but stand your ground: You don't want to lose the job or prevent future conversations from happening, so remember to be assertive without being aggressive. You are not being overly demanding, you are requesting compensation comparable to your worth.

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