Taking the Scary out of Negotiating Your Salary

Christina Pensock with her mom on graduation day at Georgia Institute of Technology.

March 07, 2016

When you consider that women hold only 19 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees and make up just 12 percent of the engineering workforce, it’s fair to say that Christina Pensock beat the odds. Pensock graduated from the prestigious H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2015. But once she began receiving offer letters from prospective employers, she realized that earning a degree in the male-dominated field was just one of the obstacles she’d have to overcome as a woman in engineering.

Pensock was concerned about the types of offers she was receiving; one in particular stood out. “I expected more,” she says about the salary offered for a position located in San Jose, California. “I knew the cost of living [in San Jose] is high. Based off of my previous internships, I had higher expectations.”

“If this is the position you want, ask for more,” was the advice her mother gave her about the disappointing offer. “The worst they can say is no.” Even with her mom’s guidance, she felt hesitant and doubtful about negotiating her salary. She never realized it would be necessary and didn’t know anyone else who had even tried. It wasn’t until the topic of negotiating her salary came up while having lunch with her friend that she decided to take her mom’s advice seriously.

Her best friend, a human resources recruiter, urged her to ask for more money. “Since she’s a recruiter, I felt she had legitimacy,” Pensock says. “Having this conversation with her, along with my mom’s advice, gave me the confidence to negotiate my salary.”

Women working full time in the United States typically are paid just 79 percent of what men are paid —  a gap of 21 percent — and it’s worse for women of color. The gender pay gap starts just one year out of college and continues to grow over the course of a career, which is why it’s crucial to establish a fair salary early on.

Pensock went on to ask for a higher salary before accepting the position and succeeded in getting what she asked for. However, she remembers the experience as an awkward one.

“It was uncomfortable; I was not prepared and I did not want to sound greedy,” she explains. “After I gave my salary expectations, the recruiter called me back within 20 minutes and told me I could have what I asked for. This is when I realized I should have asked for more.”

AAUW Start Smart and AAUW Work Smart programs are specifically designed to help women avoid the awkwardness that Pensock encountered. Workshop participants are taught strategies for calculating the salary and benefits packages they deserve so they can feel confident in what they ask for. Workshops also go over effective language to use when negotiating salaries, so women know what to say when they get to the offer table.

Pensock feels fortunate to have had her mom and best friend as mentors in pushing her to negotiate her salary. It’s important that more women have these conversations and encourage each other to ask for what they deserve. At the same time, organizations like AAUW continue to attack the gender pay gap on other fronts, including ending bias against women in the workforce and educating managers on how to close the gap. Knowing your worth and building the confidence to articulate your value are crucial skills for women to use not only in negotiating their salaries, but in many aspects of their lives.

This post was written by AAUW Web Production Intern Alexandra Braxton.


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