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Are Women Lousy Salary Negotiators?

Geoff Williams
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No man would ever say - at least in print or mixed company - that women are bad at negotiating for money and power because no guy wants to be drop-kicked to the proverbial curb for being a sexist pig. That, and it's pretty ridiculous to suggest that women can't negotiate for more money or more power - just ask Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey or Sheryl Sandberg. Still, women seem to say or suggest it quite often.

At least on the bookshelves, there are numerous titles out there that suggest women as a group could be more skilled at negotiating: "Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation - and Positive Strategies for Change" by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (2007), "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating, Second Edition" by Lee E. Miller and Jessica Miller (2010) and "Find Your Inner Red Shoes: Step Into Your Own Style of Success" by Mariela Dabbah (2013). These are just a few books that have come out in recent years, arguing that women as a group shortchange themselves when it comes to negotiating.

"There has been a sizeable amount of research on this topic, and it does appear that women are more hesitant to negotiate than men, and that when they do negotiate they are less likely to make the first offer, and when they do make the first offer and counter offers, they're less extreme offers than the ones made by men," says Robin Pinkley, a professor of management and organizations at SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas and the author of "Get Paid What You're Worth." Pinkley, along with several other female academics, is also in the beginning stages of writing a book about negotiating for women.

[Read: Should Women Use Female Financial Advisers?]

But it isn't that women can't negotiate, it's that frequently, they don't. According to a recent Salary.com survey with 816 respondents, regardless of their position, 36 percent of men always negotiate their salary after a job offer - compared to 26 percent of women. Another telling finding: 67 percent of female respondents claimed negotiating salary made them nervous, compared to 50 percent of male respondents.

So with that in mind, no matter your gender, if you aren't much of a negotiator you may want to consider the following, and internalize it the next time you angle for a better salary, improved hours or a corner office.

Understand why you're reluctant. It's probably a confidence or fear issue, many experts say. Jane Barnes, a professor of organizational behavior at the Meredith College School of Business, an all-women's college in Raleigh, N.C., says she frequently talks about negotiating for salaries with her students.

Barnes says she used to see more hesitation among her students when it comes to negotiation than she does now. "Young women now seem much more likely to know that they should be negotiating and are less fearful of doing so," Barnes says. But for those who are still nervous, Barnes says it usually comes down to three reasons women are reluctant to negotiate for money. "They're afraid the job offer will be withdrawn, they don't want the employer to think poorly of them and they aren't sure they deserve it," Barnes says.

But she always reminds them that negotiating is expected. "Employers may actually think less of you if you just take whatever is offered," Barnes says, and she adds, "No one is going to withdraw a job offer if you try to negotiate and ask for something reasonable; they have spent a great deal of time, effort and money recruiting you and have decided you are their choice - use that to your advantage."

Do your homework. In other words, if you're going to ask for money, nearly every career expert in the field will tell you to research what is a fair amount to ask. Build up your case as to why you deserve more money, recommends Allison O'Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, a national career development firm based in Marietta, Ga., which focuses on finding work for mothers.

"If you know what others are making, whether at your company or in your field, it makes it much easier to negotiate than if you give a pie in the sky number," O'Kelly says. "And if you're not as strong-willed, you might back off the pie in the sky number. But if you can say that the average is, say, $75,000 a year for a particular job, and you say, 'I should make at least the average,' as you negotiate, it feels more factual and less personal."

[Read: Tips for Perfecting Gentle Salary Negotiation.]

Don't negotiate for yourself. If you feel as if you aren't worth it (and, yes, you are), then try the following mind trick: Negotiate on behalf of your spouse, your kids or future children. Pinkley offers advice for women gunning for their first job out of college, although it's relevant for anyone: "Even if you aren't single, you won't always be, in all probability, and every salary after this one will build on that first salary, so your first salary has major implications throughout your life."

She says that if you don't negotiate for more money, and someone else gets your position and 7 percent more money, "that can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime - and out of the mouths of your future children. You also are almost never negotiating on behalf of just you but your peers. If you make more, they'll benefit, too."

How so? Pinkley points out that if you're making more, your salary will likely be more of the norm for future hires - and your colleagues when they request for a raise.

Don't be afraid to make things personal (a little). Men tend to make more money than their female counterparts. On average, women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes one year after graduation, according to a 2013 report from the American Association of University Women, which based its findings on data from a Department of Education survey of 15,000 graduates in 2009. The report concluded possible reasons for the difference may be that women don't negotiate as much as men and cultural bias creates a situation in which a man is perceived to be the breadwinner who needs to provide for his family, so the employer kicks in a little more.

[Read: Are Women Still Falling Short of Men's Earning Power?]

But according to recent U.S. census records, four in 10 kids live in a home where a woman's income is the primary source of revenue.

Until employers get the memo, O'Kelly says there's nothing wrong with an employer knowing that you have two kids and a mother-in-law to support, or whatever your situation is. But if you put it out there, in hopes of helping make your case that you need more money, that information should be as gently worked into the conversation organically. If you plant the seed that your financial commitments to your family are right on par with everyone else's, the employer may work your personal situation into the salary equation - not that a boss will likely ever tell you that.

That said, touch this topic with care.

"You don't want to start sharing your whole sob story because, in reality, it isn't their problem," O'Kelly says. "The bulk of the reason why someone should give you a raise is that you're either not making what the market rate is, in which case, you need to get an adjustment, or you're doing a great job, and you're going to get a merit increase. At the end of the day, it comes down to how you're performing and what the job is worth."

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