Soapbox

February 16, 2014 11:21 pm

Putting an end to the gender wage gap

Negotiating skills are needed, and can be developed

In the United States men still earn more money than women, even in roles that are dominated by women. Why should a nurse, social worker, or teacher – professions in which the proportions of women range from 73 to 90 per cent – earn an average of 5 to 13 per cent less than men in the same position, doing the same work? Even if the Paycheck Fairness Act – proposed legislation to expand the scope of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 – were to be approved by Congress, women still need to assume personal responsibility by speaking up and asking for what they want, feel they have earned, and believe they deserve, by exercising their right to negotiate.

In general, women participate in some form of negotiation on a recurring basis – just not for themselves. They can exhibit valiant behaviour concerning matters pertaining to individuals they feel a need to protect, or issues they are most passionate about. As it relates to their pay, however, they have been conditioned to be less forthright and accept the first offer presented to them.

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There are numerous articles on the subject of salary negotiation and women and some even include negotiation tips. Whether you cite the data produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’, or the US Census Bureau report with 2012 median earnings, you will find that women are still lagging behind men in the pay scale – earning 77 per cent of that of their male counterparts in certain positions. Instead of waiting for a revised legislative mandate on equal pay or for employers to voluntarily “level the paying field” to include equity adjustments, colleges and universities can take the onus to help de-condition women’s thinking by making psychology of negotiations and negotiations management classes part of their core curriculum that every woman would be required to take before graduating. Additionally, these courses could be made available via a massive open online course (MOOC) to allow women who aren’t degree-seeking the same opportunity to retool themselves in order to increase their earning potential.

Beale

These two courses could help women develop their lateral thinking skills which will be necessary to alleviate the need to succumb to the “fake it ‘till you make it,” and “negotiate like a man” tips that are often recommended. Let’s face it, when you enter into salary negotiations with a potential employer, the probability for a successful outcome will be predicated on your ability to clearly, thoroughly, and unwaveringly articulate what you will bring to their table. If you enter deliberations trying to present yourself as someone or something that you aren’t, at some point you will become transparent to a skilled negotiator, and risk not only losing the opportunity being presented to you, but your credibility as well.

Women sometimes create additional barriers for themselves by overanalysing a situation and become stuck. Men, on the other hand, can approach the same situation as a hurdle and thereby address it and move on expeditiously. During my years in corporate America, I witnessed these behaviours first-hand when I observed men and women with similar credentials vying for the same position. Men would often approach the interview process as if they were setting the stage for further discussions by presenting their accomplishments in such a way that I was compelled to invite them back for second and sometimes third-round interviews. In contrast, women would get hung up on a question they didn’t answer as thoroughly as they felt they should have, and would begin second-guessing themselves and reflecting on previous questions and responses instead of staying on task.

A course in psychology of negotiations would help women in today’s workforce recalibrate their thinking. The second course, negotiation management, could help develop the necessary skills women need to manage the negotiation process effectively.

Instead of relying on tips that may work for a small percentage of the female population, these two courses could help women develop the cognitive and problem solving skills to enable them to negotiate authentically*. They will have the confidence and ability to speak up for what they want, feel they have earned, and believe they deserve, and help close the gender wage gap that has persisted in our society for decades.

The writer is assistant dean of admissions at Rollins College, Crummer Graduate School of Business and runs workshops on negotiation skills.

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