First, let\’s start with some facts from Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever about women and negotiation:

  • The Million Dollar Difference. “Women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don\’t.”
  • Ouch! “Going to the dentist” is how women described the process of negotiation, while men picked “winning a ballgame.” We avoid negotiation four times as often as men.
  • First salary. A woman who fails to negotiate at the very beginning of her career will be down by $500,000 in lifetime earnings by the time she reaches 60.
  • Women are paid less. We know that women now make $.78 to every dollar a man makes (this is an improvement – in 1963, it was $.59 for every dollar). But, a study at Carnegie Mellon showed that men graduating with a Master\’s degree negotiated more than a 7% higher starting salary (around $4,000). Over a career, this would cause that $.22 discrepancy to shrink even more.
  • Attitude. Women often feel “grateful” to be offered a job – one in five adult women never negotiate.
  • Differing expectations. “Men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks.”

How can women become better negotiators? Advice from Babcock, Laschever, and others:

  • Realize that just about everything is negotiable – whether it\’s salary, a spouse helping out at home, or buying a car. Changing the way you think about things can change the way you approach things.
  • Knowledge is power. Are others getting paid more for the same work? Ask your peers and research salary averages on the Internet (such as If you go in knowing you deserve more and why, you\’re in a stronger position that just asking for more.
  • Alternatives are okay. If you know your company is cutting back and no one is getting a salary increase, ask for other perks – such as more vacation, or a new title. (My sister had insurance coverage through her husband\’s company, and negotiated the amount her employer would have spent on her coverage be added to her paycheck instead.)
  • View negotiation as collaborative and not confrontational. Looking for the win/win (your employer recognizes that you\’re an asset to the company and wants to keep you happy) makes it easier to negotiate than thinking about the process as adversarial.
  • Role play. It\’s always helpful to practice your negotiation skills, especially if you feel uncomfortable. Ask someone you trust to go through the process with you about a specific request. This will decrease your anxiety, and bring up possible scenarios you can think about before you actually do the real negotiations.
  • What\’s the worst that can happen? The answer may be “no.” So what? Don\’t take it personally. If you didn\’t ask, you wouldn\’t know. But you can be pretty sure you are more likely to get more if you ask than if you don\’t. Recognize that you have the right to advocate for yourself. As the L\’Oreal commercial said, “Because you\’re worth it.”
  • Read a book. There is a lot of information on the Internet and a number of books out there about negotiation. One recommended book: Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want. Linda Babcock and Sara Lashever. Bantam, 2009.
Jan Cullinane is the co-author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007). She gives seminars on the (primarily) non-financial aspects of retirement through her company, "Retirement Living from A to Z."