What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about negotiating? If you’re like the majority of women I’ve coached on this topic, it’s probably “lose,” “uncomfortable” or even “painful.”
It’s no wonder women feel this way; based on my experience as a salary negotiations coach; we have been raised to believe certain caveats that may sound familiar to you. The good news is you’re not alone—but the better news is that you can learn how to negotiate for what you want.
We are not born master negotiators. We have to develop the right skills to get there. This should not be difficult for smart women professionals in the construction industry.
I truly believe women can personally close the gender-based compensation gap by learning how to effectively negotiate for that next job or that deserved raise or promotion. Let’s examine the beliefs that can hold women back in negotiating, so you can begin to construct a new narrative.
1. “They’ll be offended or think I’m greedy.”
We believe we are protecting our relationship(s) at work if we don’t ask for what we’re actually worth—defending our stance by saying it’s greedy or we’ll cause offense. It’s particularly interesting to see it play out in predominantly male industries when there are few women on the scene. We already stand out, so why rock the boat?
I had a client share with me that when she asked for a raise, she was told “…there will be less for the guys.” Luckily after working together, she knew how to counter with a well-rehearsed response about the extra value she was bringing to the role.
2. “I have no idea what I’m worth.”
It’s time to do your research. Find out what your job is worth and what others earn. MoneyUnder30, the personal finance website for young adults, lists Salary.com, GlassDoor.com and PayScale.com as the top three salary information websites. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also still holds up, especially in the construction industry. If you’re in a union, you could have this data at your disposal.
Also talk to people inside and outside your organization. Luckily it’s becoming more normal to talk about money (and you can’t legally be fired over it!) Take people out for coffee or lunch and ask for a general range. This can feel much safer than directly asking “how much do you make?”
3. “I should wait ‘til they bring it up.”
Here’s the thing … what if they never do? There’s a concept called the “spotlight effect,” which means that we think people are thinking about us all the time, but they’re really thinking about getting to their next meeting on time or their kids’ dentist appointments.
Bottom line: If you want something, you have to make it known and ask for it. Many of us wait until our annual review to ask for a raise (or HR maybe offers a cost of living adjustment). Get yourself out of this cycle. Your review is a time to gain helpful feedback so you can grow rather than ask for more money. Find out when the budget is being created. That’s when you want to make a well researched ask.
4. “There’s nothing to negotiate for.”
There’s always something to negotiate for. Get creative! Even if you ask your supervisor to meet with you regularly to review success metrics, this will force you to practice these skills. There are many benefits beyond pay you need to negotiate. The important thing to ask is ‘What’s most important to me?’ It could be funds for health care or professional development, stretch assignments that will amplify your expertise, a title change, access to a specific network and more!
5. “I don’t deserve it.”
To this I ask – what is the truth? Are you using this as an excuse to play small? Or have you really not shown your value? If the latter is true, start today to make a list of the areas you can improve and then pick your top priority. Don’t try to tackle the whole list at once.
Remember, action creates motivation – not the other way around. If deep down, you know you add value but feel it’s too “self-promotional” to let people know, that’s great self-awareness of an area you need to grow in. You deserve to be recognized for your contributions, but the first step is letting others know.
6. “It doesn’t say ‘salary negotiable.’ ”
Just because a job listing lacks these two words does not mean you can’t negotiate. An employer will rarely give you a top offer first—which means you’re leaving value on the table when you don’t negotiate. When I work with companies to craft equitable job descriptions, I always recommend adding these words.
Why? Because women look for them; if they’re not there, many assume they have to take the initial offer. If men are negotiating and/or seen as more desirable candidates, the company could be on its way toward inequitable pay.
According to a June study by Harvard University’s Kennedy School, salary negotiations were initiated almost three times more often by those who received job descriptions that mentioned wages were negotiable (21%) than by those whose job descriptions did not. The authors also found that when there was no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men were more likely to negotiate than women.
Feeling more ready to let go of these caveats? I hope so! Your skills will not improve without practice—and we have opportunities to do so in all we do every day.
What will make you feel valued and keep you out of the resentment zone? Use your voice and ask for it.
Lindsey Lathrop-Ryan is a gender-equity consultant and negotiating coach based in Burlington Vt., who also co-founded the state's Business Peer Exchange, a collective of businesses that works to ensure women thrive in their workplaces. Lathrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more at her business website or on instagram @coach_lins