How I Learned to (Successfully) Negotiate My Salary
Sandra Butler knew the gender pay gap was a problem. But she didn’t know just how much this problem had likely already affected her life.
“I wasn’t aware of how significant the gender pay gap was until I was about five years into my career,” says Butler, who works in global health in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I can’t remember whether I negotiated my first salary, but I’m guessing I did not. Missing out on that negotiation could still be costing me more than 10 years later.”
Like many women, Butler had shied away from taking a seat at the negotiating table.
“I fell into the category of, I’m so thankful to have a job that I will take what they offered,” she says.
Realizing her worth
Linda Babcock’s Ask for It played a key role in changing Butler’s mind about negotiating.
“It was a difficult book to read, as it went through example after example of women sharing why they didn’t ask for ‘it’ — be it a raise, promotion, benefits, vacation time — the ‘it’ can be a lot of things,” Butler says. “In these examples, women talked themselves out of engaging in those negotiation conversations, convincing themselves they were already lucky to have what they had, that so-and-so colleague probably isn’t getting what they want to ask for, so why should they? They didn’t want to rock the boat or be perceived as asking for too much or as too aggressive.”
Ask for It empowered Butler to engage in those difficult negotiation conversations because she better understood how big the consequences were if she talked herself out of them.
“Since reading that book I have tried to push myself to ask for it — in both my personal and professional life — while spreading the word among friends, particularly girlfriends, that we are talking ourselves out of things we deserve,” Butler says. “And we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage because of it.”
Putting thoughts into actions
After a friend told Butler about AAUW’s Start Smart and Work Smart programs, Butler was eager to join the cause.
“When she told me about this training and about Boston’s initiative to be the first city to close the gender wage gap, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Butler says. “I wanted to be involved in spreading this message to other women.”
“One of the most surprising facts I learned from the AAUW training is about the salary range you propose in negotiations,” Butler says.
She had always assumed that if she wanted, for example, $30,000, she should offer a range of $25–$35,000 to try and land in the middle — right at $30,000.
“In fact, your target salary should be at the bottom of the bolstering range you offer,” Butler says. “If you’re gunning for $30,000, you should offer $30–$40,000 to ensure that you get at least your target salary and in a best case scenario, land on an even higher salary.”
Butler was quickly presented with the perfect opportunity to apply what she had learned in a real-world setting.
“The timing was incredibly synergistic for me,” she says. “I was trained as a facilitator and attended a negotiation training at the same time I was entering into negotiations for a new job.”
The lessons and tools Butler received through her trainings paid off — literally.
“I advocated for the value my personal experience and education would bring to the role, and I was sure to include that what I was asking for was grounded in market research,” she says. “And boom, my negotiation was successful. It’s the best feeling in the world — it makes you want to dance in the streets.”
Woman on a mission
Butler co-facilitated her first salary negotiation workshop in February at Harvard University, where several participants shared stories of grappling with the negotiation process.
“After the training, a number of women came up to us to talk about certain points that resonated the most with them,” Butler says. “Some asked if we could come to their graduate schools or elsewhere to educate women in those areas of their lives. To feel like you have given someone a tool that they can use to improve their personal situation is incredibly rewarding.”
Up next for Butler? More trainings. She’ll be co-facilitating another workshop in Back Bay on April 12, otherwise known as Equal Pay Day, and she plans to facilitate throughout the year.
“I truly believe this can — and should — be an issue that the generation being born today does not face when they grow up,” Butler says. “It’s similar to how I think back on women not being able to vote or being excluded from attending many universities — that seems crazy now, but in reality, it was not that long ago. I hope to add the gender pay gap to that list and make it history.”
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