Salary Negotiation Could Have Made a DifferenceJune 10, 2013
Anastasia Engebretson accepted the salary offered to her in her first job out of college. She didn’t know she had the option to negotiate.
She found when she arrived for work as a technician that almost all of the new hires were in the same boat except for a few men with less education and relevant experience. These men had negotiated. As one of them told her flat out after a couple of months on the job, “I’m probably getting paid more than you are.”
“I have a bachelor’s degree in physics,” Engebretson said. “This guy who hadn’t gone to college and couldn’t do mental math was getting paid more.”
She learned later, when trying to save up her vacation time to visit her boyfriend, that these men also accumulated vacation time at a faster rate than she did.
Once word of the pay disparity spread, two of her co-workers tried to get the pay they deserved. Engebretson didn’t even try. At that point, she knew she didn’t want to work there anymore because she was being sexually harassed.
“I ended up hating that job because I got sexually harassed every day,” she said. “It was a wear-really-ugly-clothes-on-purpose kind of job.”
She said that one of the teachers at training for the job basically stalked her, as she learned when he made a comment about how the elevator was slow at her apartment building. When Engebretson told her supervisor, her supervisor said that she didn’t want to get labeled as a flag-raiser. Engebretson also wasn’t prepared for how differently she would be treated as a woman in a largely male environment.
“As soon as I got in there, it was like ‘sweetie, cupcake, doll. Oh, you’re not going to have to work because you’re a girl,’” she said. “They tried to put me in positions where I was just going to sit in the office.”
Engebretson suffered through the sexual harassment and unfair pay for a year and a half before she quit. Now, she’s in graduate school at Oregon State University working on a degree in mechanical engineering. She learned about AAUW and the WAGE Project’s $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops through a bulletin board at her school. The workshop information proved to be invaluable.
“Really think about the base salary they offer you because it’s going to affect retirement,” she said. “There’s nobody there who tells you what’s OK to argue or if it’s even OK to do so.”
Engebretson said she emerged from the workshop much more confident on how to negotiate her salary.
“I’m a really nice person and pretty articulate most of the time, but I sometimes struggle with developing my professional persona,” she said. “I know that’s especially important for a girl in science or math. I felt what she told us about what kind of language to use when negotiating was really key.”
AAUW strongly supports teaching women salary negotiation skills in an effort to close the wage gap. $tart $mart offers several opportunities to get involved: Find a site near you, “like” the program on Facebook, recruit a new campus site, or become a facilitator.
However, salary negotiation alone can’t close the wage gap. AAUW continues to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a needed update to the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act. In the meantime, President Barack Obama can address part of the Paycheck Fairness Act through an executive order that would ban federal contractors from firing or otherwise retaliating against workers who share salary information and wage practices.
“There are a lot of positive things I learned from the negative experience,” Engebretson said. “But I think it’d be nice if people didn’t have to go through the same ins and outs that I did.”
Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, stories like Engebretson’s are still far too prevalent. Let’s let the anniversary serve not as a cause for celebration but a call for action to make equal pay for equal work a reality.