If you’re like me, you dread conversations about your salary, and you probably don’t know anyone who feels perfectly at ease with the topic, regardless of gender, age, or level of experience.
But to young professionals not yet familiar with a market and where they fit in, asking for a raise or establishing’s one salary can feel like an especially fraught process. So, not surprisingly, the crowd of mostly 20-something women gathered at a Well + Good Talk on female leadership this month in New York listened with rapt attention as a small panel of women, including Kelly Coffey, CEO of JPMorgan Chase’s US Private Bank, shared advice on the topic.
Coffey, appropriately, as the finance executive on the panel, offered the audience an especially smart strategy. To avoid the common fear of sounding greedy or obnoxious, don’t simply ask for more money. Instead say, “I would like to make $X. What would it take for me to get there?”
You might then elaborate with follow-up questions: Would it mean adding extra duties? Changing roles? Improving some aspect of the way I work now?
What’s brilliant about this approach is that it basically says, this isn’t about me and what I feel entitled to. It makes the conversation about the bargaining. And because you’re not asking a yes/no question, it immediately sets up the expectation that some deal will be struck, and we just need to find out what it is. (Sales people use this tactic when they ask, “What would it take for you to accept?”)
Of course, you might find out that the number you have in mind isn’t within the realm of possibility, Coffey said, which is also useful information. If you’re committed to earning a particular dollar amount, start looking elsewhere.
Economists and psychologists have conducted multiple studies on pay negotiation tactics and human behavior. In 2014, psychologists at Columbia University found that naming a salary range with a high “floor” (i.e. the lowest amount you’ll accept) led to higher offers. In 2016, a Columbia Business School study said that cracking a joke about a ridiculous amount of money you’d like to make can “anchor” a conversation, and subtly influence the employer’s thought process so that they’re more likely to go high, too. If you know the job pays in the $60,000 range, ask for half a million. Ha, ha!
These ideas sound promising in theory, but they don’t address that initial obstacle— the fear that asking for what you want, however you go about it, will be off-putting. In this sense, Coffey’s non-scientific method feels more doable. It’s not manipulative, either. You’re asking how your employer values particular contributions for a given role, but you’re flagging your own agenda, too. Your ambition exists and you’ve declared it.
It applies equally well to men as to women, though its basic premise is in keeping with advice Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, shared at a forum last year about improving policies specifically to advance women’s economic opportunities. Sandberg said that although it shouldn’t be so, women generally are not treated the same way as men when they ask for money.
“If you are negotiating for a raise and you are a man, you can walk in and say ‘I deserve this.’ That will not backfire on you,” Sandberg said. “We know the data says it will backfire on a woman. So I think along with saying ‘I deserve this,’ [women should explain] that, you know, ‘This is important for [my] performance,’ and ‘This will make [me] more effective as a team member.’”
Sandberg said at the time that she hates to share this advice. Women shouldn’t have to adjust their behavior to accommodate a sexist structure. Men who happen to have less confidence than the average dude shouldn’t have to, either, of course, but they might feel more comfortable if they did. This compromise will get you further than not asking at all.
In a rare piece of good news about gender and salary talk, a team of management researchers recently found that, contrary to previous studies, women are asking to negotiate higher salaries at roughly the same rate as men. But the rates are still pretty low for both genders: About 14% of all job applicants work up the courage to ask for more money before they accept an offer, the authors found.
Anyone considering a job offer should probably attempt to secure a higher starting salary, experts say, because it could work, and it likely will not tarnish your reputation or jeopardize your opportunity. Andréa Mallard, chief marketing officer of athleisure wear company Athleta, who also spoke at the Well + Good panel, told the young women in the crowd that they should never hesitate, because it’s an impressive move.
Whenever she has hired someone who asked for more money, she said, the pushback made her respect that person more, not less. And, if it’s possible, most employers want to hit that number that will make someone feel excited about the job.