How women can push for pay equality

Women are leading the charge for change—except when it comes to negotiating their salaries. Don’t get cheated. Use these tips to boost your bargaining power.

How women can push for pay equality

Only 34% of women negotiate their job offers.

There’s no denying it: Women are calling for change. They’re mobilized, invigorated, and determined to make sure the future is one that supports them both in their personal and professional pursuits. But  there’s one glaring area where women are still lagging behind men—equal pay for equal work.

In a survey of more than 2,800 senior managers by global staffing firm Robert Half, 70% of respondents expected candidates to negotiate salary. However, only 55% of job seekers who were asked if they negotiated the salary of their last job offer responded yes. Research from Harvard Business Review found that although women ask for raises just as often as men do, men are more likely than women to get the raises. Women who asked got a raise 15% of the time, while men got a raise 20% of the time. 

As someone who has been on the other side of the desk in countless job-offer negotiations, I can tell you this: Everyone should negotiate their salaries.

With all of that in mind, I thought I might offer some insights for women on how to approach this kind of discussion with confidence. You might be surprised to find out it’s really just a simple conversation. Let’s break it down.

Go in knowing you’ll ask

Yes, even if the original offer is a good one. Yes, even—especially!—if you feel awkward asking. I’ve experienced candidates who were completely confident and self-assured, as well as candidates who stumbled over their words. While the latter individuals were clearly uncomfortable, guess what? They still managed to ask and, yes, they almost always got more money. They stepped out of their comfort zone and reaped the rewards.

In your head, try to make this an essential for the job-search process, just like wearing a suit to the interview or writing a thank-you note afterwards. If you’re afraid you won’t follow through, tell someone else—like a trusted mentor or friend—and get that person to hold you accountable.

Need motivation? Bear in mind that women still earn only roughly 82 cents to every $1 that men do—the figure drops to 62 cents for African-American women and 54 cents for Hispanic women. And every time you don’t negotiate your salary, you’re likely growing the pay gap even more between you and your male colleagues.

How would you feel if you knew the guy in the next cube over who has the same title was making 20% more than you were? Or better yet, how happy would you be with 20% more money in your biweekly paycheck?

Another way to think about it: When you negotiate your starting salary, you’re setting a baseline. The higher you start, the higher your salary will be with each incremental raise you get at that company. (Oh, and if you don't see a raise after two or three years, definitely start looking for a new job.)

Be prepared

In order to know what you should be asking for when negotiating your salary, do your research ahead of time. Start by looking up your job title and geographic region on Monster’s salary search page or This will give you a starting point.

Next, initiate conversations with former colleagues, as well as with mentors and industry organizations you belong to. State something like, “I’m excited to pursue new job opportunities, but it’s my mission to get paid what I’m worth. In the spirit of sharing information—I’m not asking you what you specifically get paid—but what do you think the going rate is for my title and my years of experience in this area?” The more conversations you have, the more educated you’ll become, and ultimately, the more comfortable you’ll feel talking about salary in general.

Lastly, speak to your HR department and/or look online at your company’s intranet. Many employers have become transparent in terms of sharing salary ranges for different levels and titles. You may be able to find out what your going range is.

Ace the conversation

Here’s how you want to play it when the job offer comes in:

Recruiter: “Congratulations, we have exciting news! We’d like to extend a job offer to you for the role of XYZ, starting on Monday, August 15th, with a salary of $75,000.”

Two things to remember: 1) You may be jumping up and down on the inside, but do not accept that offer on the spot! 2) This should be a friendly, collaborative conversation. Treat it as such—meaning, don’t go in ready for a fight.

You: [Pause.] “That’s great! I’m honored by the offer, thank you!”

That pause is important. Your silence will unnerve the recruiter (remember they want you to take this job as much as you want to—they need to show that their “time to fill” open positions is within industry norms). Then immediately afterward demonstrate your enthusiasm and gratitude. You want your tone of voice to convey this as well, since the offer will likely be extended on the phone. Be upbeat and sincere in your appreciation.

[Pause again.]

You: “But, I need to think about it over the weekend. I was hoping for a higher salary. Is that a possibility?”

Here’s where the conversation really kicks off. Remember always to keep the tone light and polite. You’re working together to reach a solution that’s amenable to both of you.

Most likely, the recruiter is going to say something like, “I’m not sure. Let me check and get back to you.”

The recruiter may add, “It’s easier for me to get an offer approved if you tell me what salary you’re looking for.”

You can say, “I don’t know what your budget allows for, so I’m hoping to see first if you can go higher,” in order to push them to come up with a number first. But this approach to the conversation may go in a circle. Ideally, as in any negotiation, you want the other party to put down a number first, but they might not go there (truth be told, I never did).

If it’s looking like it’s up to you to make the first move, go ahead and state your number, such as $85,000. You may end up with a final offer of $80,000.

When you reach a desirable number, be sure to thank them and express your appreciation.

Now it’s time to start inquiring about sign-on bonuses, flexible work time, and an additional week of paid time off. The worst they can do is say no.

The truth of the matter is that recruiters and hiring managers are more surprised when you don’t negotiate than when you do.

Remember, the more you negotiate, the more normal it will feel. Right now, you need to pummel through any self-doubts or awkward feelings. Go ahead and negotiate every single offer you get, and when the amount’s confirmed, ask to get it in writing. You can thank me later!

Be more career savvy

Negotiating your salary is just one of the many challenges you’ll face throughout your time in the workforce. It’s not easy, we know. But the more comfortable you are when it comes time to stand up for yourself, the more you'll do it. Need some extra help becoming a more assertive, savvy worker? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get career advice and job search tips sent straight to your inbox so you can confidently climb the ladder. Knowledge truly is power.

Monster’s career expert Vicki Salemi has more than 15 years of experience in corporate recruiting and HR and is the author of Big Career in the Big City. Follow her on Twitter at @vickisalemi