Cover Story

The American Association of University Women's (AAUW) recent report, Behind the Pay Gap, shows that just one year after college graduation, women earn only 80 percent of their male counterparts' earnings. Ten years after graduation, women fall further behind, earning only 69 percent of men's salaries. Also 10 years out, college-educated men working full time have more authority than women in the workplace: They make more hiring and termination decisions, have more supervision opportunities and responsibilities and they set salaries. Even after controlling for work hours, occupation, parenthood and other factors known to affect earnings, research indicates that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained and is likely due to gender discrimination. The AAUW research also shows that this pay gap exists despite the fact that women outperform men in school, earning slightly higher GPAs in every college major, including science and mathematics.

Women don't like to negotiate salary

Women can take more control over their salaries if they are willing to negotiate — a task that many women dislike. According to surveys from the Women Work! Online Career Center, two-and-a-half times more women than men said they feel very apprehensive about negotiating salaries, while men initiate negotiations about four times more often than women. When asked to select metaphors for the negotiation process, men chose "winning a ball game or wrestling match," while women chose "going to a dentist." These same surveys revealed that women are more pessimistic about possible salaries when negotiating, so they typically ask for and are offered an average of 30 percent less than men. Surprisingly, 20 percent of women report that they never negotiate and simply accept the first offer, even though they recognize that negotiation is appropriate and sometimes necessary to obtain a more equitable salary.

Knowing your worth

Understanding the market value of your work is important. Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32 percent lower than those of men for comparable jobs in the same Women Work! surveys. Likewise, these data reveal that men expect to earn 3 percent more than women during the first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at the peak of their careers.

What can women do to secure the salaries they deserve? Here are some negotiation tips:

  • Know the market salary for the job you're seeking. Multiple resources on the Internet provide salary reports for various jobs in different geographic regions. For a high-level overview, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. The APA Center for Psychology Workforce Analysis and Research conducts regular salary surveys and provides salary ranges for psychology careers.

  • Decide on the salary you need, and the one you want. Keeping in mind the typical salary for the job you're seeking, determine the earnings you need to make ends meet — your lowest possibility. Then decide the amount of money that would make you happy-your ideal salary. Select a number in between that you could live with.

  • Consider the benefits. If an employer can't budge on the salary, consider other perks that would make the pay worth your while, such as a flexible schedule, telecommuting opportunities, a comprehensive health-care package or paid time off.

  • Don't accept an offer immediately unless it matches your ideal. Ask for time to think about any offer. An employer will typically give you a deadline, so make sure you respond within the timeframe. If the number is lower than what you want, counter the offer. Be realistic, though. If your ideal number is significantly higher than their offer, this may not be the job for you. If the number is closer to your middle number, consider countering with your ideal number. Many women are surprised to discover that their counter offer is readily accepted, or they can at least get more than the first offer if they just ask!

  • Be confident and prepared. Assess, understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate your skills and value. Enter every negotiation knowing that you deserve a competitive and fair salary. Knowing that before you enter a conversation will help you represent yourself effectively, and increase your chances of getting what you want.

Further Reading

For more information, see the "Knowing your worth" column in the March 2005 gradPSYCH at http://gradpsych.apags.org/mar05/matters.html.