How to negotiate your salary as a woman in tech

Women have a very difficult time negotiating salary. We are trained to be nonconfrontational, to paste a smile on our faces, and to be grateful for what we are given. This is not the most effective tack to take when trying to increase your compensation. There is no way to convince you that you will not immediately be tossed out of the applicant pile for negotiating a better salary. You must experience for yourself the respect garnered by insisting on the maximum possible compensation in order to truly believe me.

I am not generally considered the most pliable of women, and though I can be very direct and confrontational in negotiations, I have never been thrown out of a salary negotiation before. I have had companies which were unable to meet my price, but never any that simply refused to negotiate with me. I’ve gotten much better salaries and far more respect by understanding that whether salaries are labeled as ‘negotiable’ or not, men will negotiate them, and I had better do the same. This is Minute-Zero in the gender pay gap; this is the single place that women can improve their economic condition most of all.

It does not matter if an F500 company is offering me 10% equity and a salary that makes Steve Jobs roll over in his grave (may he rest in peace). I have never in my life opened a salary negotiation by saying “Yes, that sounds like a reasonable number.” Instead, I have a phrase I repeat ad infinitum, ad nauseam, and it would behoove you to memorize it until you can parrot it to the pursestring-holder with whom you will be negotiating. “That is a lower number than I was expecting to hear, but at least it provides a baseline from which we can negotiate. I assume that your offer will also include benefits as well as stock grants or options of some kind?”

Just repeat that exact phrase after they give you the first offer–and make no mistake, they are making you an offer that they expect you to counter. If you do not, they will believe that they offered too much, or that you had no other options. Both those statements may be true, but you should never admit it. Do not get cute with your salary negotiator. This is not the time to use excuses, to plead or flirt, or to describe your personal situation in great detail (“I need onsite daycare”). You will be in a much better position to negotiate that after you have a salaried position with the company.

I cannot emphasize this enough: the men with whom you will be working do not need to like you, and the person with whom you negotiate your salary should breathe a sigh of bewildered relief after they are done speaking with you. If I can be permitted to lapse into stereotyping, men are often very good at working well both for and with people that they do not like–so long as there is mutual respect. Women sometimes have a hard time with this, and if you want to work well with the men in your workplace, you must learn that respect, not friendship, is the coin in which your colleagues will trade.

This means that you should think about this negotiation as the reverse of a used car purchase.

  3. Have a number below which you will not accept the position.
  4. If the negotiator accepts your number too quickly, you did not ask for enough. Add 10% to the amount for which you will ask initially, as it is too late to ask after you have given your first number.
  5. If the negotiator must continue to talk to someone else to get approval on your demands, either they are using a very effective negotiating tactic (“Someone who does not know or like you must make this decision, not I.”) or you are not speaking to the person with whom you should actually be having the conversation.
  6. A baseline from the company which is too high for the position means that you do not know everything about the position for which you are being wooed.
  7. Be willing to accept addons which are able to be negotiated in place of those which are not, i.e. stock grants or flextime to tempt you in place of a too-low salary set by company policy and not your hiring manager.
  9. Neither of you should be happy with the final number. If one of you is thrilled–and you will be able to tell if you are bargaining hard enough quite easily if you treat it as a purchase–then you are either being paid too much (Were they honest about the unpaid overtime?) or too little (You are that woman who is being paid 78 cents on the male dollar. Do not be her.) for the job you will be performing.
  10. Ensure that you understand the fine details about the expectations in relation to the salary and benefits. A telecommuting benefit does not appear quite as appealing when you realize you will have to personally purchase a work cell phone, work laptop, networking equipment, an additional router, company-approved security equipment, and possibly an entire home office in order to take advantage of the option. A wonderful salary may hide a poor 401k employer matching benefit, or expectations (common at most tech firms, regardless of what they tell you up front) that you will be on call for your job 24/7. That last is particularly endemic to we web developers and all of you poor, martyred database administrators. I have been unofficial tier IV support for several websites for which I was the lead developer–and that is not something they tell you when showing you the vegan options in the company cafeteria.

If you want to ask specific questions, do so in the comments below. Leave your best tricks and tips too!

Portions adapted from “Technical Interviews for Technical Women,” © 2011 Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack