Ladies, in Salary Negotiations Maybe Honesty Isn’t the Best Policy

Salaries Women Workplace Equity

Online application forms make required fields of salary history, recruiters want to know what you make now… all of this gives the employer the advantage. It also means that one low-ball job in the past puts you at an increased disadvantage in every negotiation thereafter.

A recent article from Harvard Business Review discussed a new International Consortium of Executive Research (ICEDR) study on why women choose to leave jobs. They found that while managers reported women leaving due to a desire for more work/life balance, women reported that pay was the top issue.

I don’t know anyone who is surprised by this, but I think it’s a little more complicated. Pay directly correlates to respect. A company that doesn’t value you won’t pay you what you deserve.

In my own career, it’s been about opportunity and honesty. When I haven’t trusted management to deal with me fairly, I’ve become less satisfied with the terms of my employment. In my experience, that faith has never been restored once lost.

In one job a couple of jobs ago, the signs were all there up front. I should have walked when the title wasn’t what the HR manager had told me it would be. “We wanted to give you room to be promoted quickly.” What can I say, I was young. But over the rest of my tenure there, though by all accounts I “met and exceeded expectations,” no promise was fulfilled – financially or otherwise. I don’t think it was deliberate or that they wished me ill, it’s just the system. They named the game, and I showed my cards when I sat at the table.

I failed to negotiate a strong position.

Somebody’s gotta pay

In a recent article, Ann Friedman breaks it down beautifully:

“Pay us enough that if you were to accidentally email the entire office a spreadsheet containing everyone’s salary, you wouldn’t be ashamed. Pay us what you know we deserve, even if we haven’t demanded it.”

Treat yourself to the whole thing: One Weird Trick for Keeping Female Employees From Quitting, delightfully filed under ‘Shocking Twists Nobody Saw Coming.’

The case for lying

Online application forms make required fields of salary history, recruiters want to know what you make now… all of this gives the employer the advantage. It also means that one low-ball job in the past puts you at an increased disadvantage in every negotiation thereafter.

The solution? According to one friend: Lie.

New employers are likely to at least match your salary, or if not, they’ll feel badly about asking you to take a pay cut, so they’ll try to minimize it. Hiring managers are making assumptions about your value based on what your current company thinks you’re worth. This is why pay is so important. Because your new boss’s expectations and belief in you reflects what they think you’re worth, even if it’s at a subconscious level.

I doubled my salary at my next three jobs with this tactic, and finally found myself on par with what men were paid in my industry. Finally double became a number that wasn’t believable, so I started lying by $10,000.

But you see what happened there? Money is the metric for value. The boss that had to reach to afford you will value you and your work more highly. So yeah, it starts with the money, but the respect and opportunities for advancement flow from there.

Friend P breaks that down:

It’s money, sure. But it’s other things too — feeling stuck, not being challenged, not feeling respected for my contributions and my work. One thing I’d say that isn’t covered in either of these articles is the “worker bee” vs. “peacock” effect. Those who are better at showcasing themselves seem to always get the biggest recognition (pay, titles, promotions, shout outs, etc.), whereas those who are not as likely to parade around their work and accomplishments are often left out of discussions about rewards for good work. Anecdotally, the people I’ve met who are less inclined to be peacocks are typically women.

How we’re paid is how we’re valued. The system – rife with secrecy –  is definitely weighted in favor of the employer. It’s ill-mannered to talk about money, until it isn’t. And taking one low-paying job to get your foot in the door sets you up for a career of being undervalued.  

Thea Joselow is a digital media writer, editor and social media director based in Bethesda, Maryland. She has worked for such illustrious institutions as National Public Radio, Smithsonian Magazine, and at a strategic communications firm in Washington, D.C., but please don’t hold that against them. Thea likes to think she has a good sense of humor. All opinions, omissions and offenses are entirely her own. She can be found on Twitter at @tjoselow.

Image via Flickr.

  • Stacia Friedman

    My favorite part of interviews was when they would ask about salary without stating the range they were offering, Instead of talking about my “minimum” requirements, I’d talk about my “maximum”, saying, “Gee, I would feel comfortable anywhere under $500,000.” HR never has a sense of humor!

    • Thea Joselow

      That’s a new angle! Love it.

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