How men & women talk about salary
Are women less likely to ask for a raise? Or do they just believe they should be grateful for what they’re offered? Co-hosts Virgile (Figures) and Hung Lee (Recruiting Brainfood) were joined by Henna Pryor and Kimberly Jones in this illuminating webinar on the way gender impacts our salary discussions.
Henna Pryor (Award-winning Keynote Speaker – Pryority Group)
Kimberly Jones (CEO – Kelton Legend)
Hung Lee (Curator – Recruiting Brainfood)
Virgile Raingeard (CEO – Figures)
Why is there a gender pay gap?
Men and women seem to talk about compensation differently. “There is a gap in the way we talk about it, and the data supports this,” confirms TedX speaker Henna Pryor. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review puts the US gender pay gap at about 17%; in the UK, Figures reported a gap of 28% this year.
“There are a lot of reasons for this,” says Henna, “but the one that seems the most pressing to me is that studies have now shown that men are more likely to negotiate their salary than women. Women don’t do it as often or even recognise it as an obvious thing to do. There’s an education gap. Men talk about it more – they talk about how they got these raises. Historically, women just haven’t been as comfortable having these conversations.”
As a former head of HR and current consultant in talent acquisition, Kimberly Jones has insight from both sides of the negotiating table. “I spent a lot of time in the aerospace industry recruiting engineers – people who tend to be good at maths – and found women tended to be more detailed about the offer; men tended to think more broadly about the things they were looking for.
“The way they had discussions was also different based on gender. Women don’t want to seem confrontational or adversarial – they want to show some gratitude for being given the offer. There can be a level of timidness – let me just accept what they’re offering me, it’s probably better than what I’m making now. There’s some shyness around going back to the table.”
Research shows that new hires are often paid more than retained employees – which may have played a part in the ‘Great Resignation’ of 2021. At the negotiation stage, asked Hung, does every interviewer aim to agree the lowest-possible salary?
CEO of Figures, Virgile Raingeard compiles salary data from all over Europe and commissions studies on topics like transparency and offer negotiations. “I wouldn’t say that companies try to lowball candidates but some use the mystery of compensation to offer the lowest amount possible – which, from a purely business perspective, might be their objective.”
Fairness in negotiation is a topic that companies need to tackle. Virgile notes, “We had a study done in France which showed, on average, men asked for around a 20% increase while women asked for a 5% increase.” This happened during salary review meetings too: “Something like 75% of men were not willing to change roles unless they got more. Meanwhile only 25% of women were unwilling to change roles without an increase. This is an ongoing issue, not just at hiring time but during promotion cycles, compensation reviews.”
There are differences in the way people approach interviews, too, says Hung. “Men and women look at adverts differently. Men tend to apply for jobs where they do not fulfil the requirements – they will just ‘shoot their shot’, while women need to have 90% completed, so they can say yes this is me. That results in them not giving themselves the opportunity.”
How can we equalise the situation?
Women are relative newcomers to the workforce, without the decades of negotiating experience managed by the male population. “It’s important to note that the pandemic set us way back,” says Henna. “Thousands of women left the workforce in droves because we didn’t have any other way to manage – women had to take a backseat in their career – so what was originally an Industrial Revolution issue became a pandemic issue. So how can we recalibrate?”
“Men historically are confident enough to say mm, I have a couple of these things, let’s apply, whereas women they look at their list of qualifications and say… I don’t know if I’m competent enough. It’s the same issue when it comes to advocating for more money – do I meet all of these criteria? What we should actually do is look at our future potential with this organisation and what value we bring. As women we need to shift the difference between confidence and competence,” adds Henna.
Both Henna and Kimberly coach candidates on successful negotiating, and they have some tips for greater confidence at the interview.
“Throughout the year, you should be having conversations about your wins; what you bring,” says Henna. “Regularly take out your Job Description and see what you’ve added to it.”
When it’s time to review a salary (at either employee’s or employer’s prompting), Henna recommends that you prepare for the conversation. “Come in with a plan. Don’t wing it. Come in saying this is what I’m worth, I want more money, here are all the reasons. I coached a candidate recently who told me: I made my case and I took your advice, sat on my hands, and said, what are your concerns? And let that air hang. Land the plane. That’s a negotiation skill that a lot of women are uncomfortable with, but it makes a difference.”
As a human being, we all have expectations – but we have lifestyle requirements too, and they’re often overlooked. When you’re discussing a new role, it’s important to take a wide perspective on all the benefits, says Kimberly Jones. “The popular thing now is putting the salary in the job posting, but that’s emotionally reactionary and not empowering candidates. I coach candidates to talk about total compensation: yes how much money is in my pay check, but also how many vacation days do I get? Do I have a separate bank of sick time? Is this really an environment where increase is merit based? What does bereavement time look like?”
“There’s one point I’d like to make,” interjects Virgile – “this is necessary work but it shouldn’t prevent us from thinking about the fact that this is companies’ responsibility to close this issue. We’re kind of saying “this issue exists because women need to get better at negotiating” – no! Companies need to get better and pay people fairly so that this doesn’t happen.”
“But it could be dangerous to sit there and wait for companies to do the right thing,” says Hung. “There’s always a big percentage of companies who are going to do what they can in order to survive or make more profit.”
Virgile agrees. “My message is not: wait, because companies are going to take good care of you – probably not. We need to push companies to be more transparent and show more commitment to improving fairness and closing the gender pay gap.”
“The responsibility is for companies to show up,” says Kimberly, “and be the type of company that people want to work for.”
Is the answer that companies should eliminate salary negotiation altogether? “Maybe it should be a single offer – best offer first and that’s it,” suggests Hung. “You could eliminate negotiations by presenting the best offer; would that be a possible solution?”
Coming up with that figure is easier said than done. But clarity on the compensation structure can help to make sure that salaries start out fair, says Henna. “Sometimes someone comes in for an interview and gets a great offer; what is it based on? Well, they had technical skills but we also thought they’d be an excellent culture fit. What does that mean? Is that levelling the playing field? In some companies, ‘culture fit’ means we just really like them so we will throw more money at them. Are we clear about what warrants XYZ salary or raise? We need transparency about how we are coming up with these numbers.”
“We need a compensation strategy,” concurs Hung. “We need to understand why that number is there. If you have a job worth 80k… how did you magic that up? What is the cost of empty seat if the job is not filled? How does that job impact your business?”
Salary transparency – a topic for a future webinar – is a frightening concept for some companies, says Virgile. “People think transparency means sharing everything about salary; but you can be transparent about your company policy first, your processes, then potentially about salary grid, and potentially then salary. Ultimately transparency brings accountability.”
In a larger business or a more established business, ‘switching on’ transparency could cause a crisis; this change will require time and thought, according to Hung. Kimberly, who has been in a company where the salary grid was totally transparent, thinks it’s simple to justify salaries as long as they’ve been fairly managed.
“Put everybody’s salary up on a whiteboard in the cafeteria if I as an employer have committed to being fair. I can validate every single difference so I would never shy away from salary conversations when people want to validate pay checks,” explains Kimberly. “I’m also going to ask you to validate who you are and what you contributed.”
Advice for negotiating
In closing, our experts shared their tips for negotiating salary.
“Don’t share your current salary,” begins Virgile. “It can be used against you. When asked about your expectation, don’t hesitate to ask the company to tell you what they think the role is worth and why. Reverse the expectation and put that accountability back on the company – ask how you can offer me a fair compensation. Hung nods: “That’s a classic pre-emptive move – whoever says the number first loses.”
“After your interview, reach out to your recruiter and ask for a debrief,” suggests Kimberly. “If you learned in the interview that there is 70% turnover and the team is under resourced, that’s different to the job posting and you are within your rights to say: this impacts on what I should expect for salary because this role is very different.”
Henna shared a tip for those who are ready to discuss a raise. “One of my favourite tips is to take your original job description and have it in front of you. Look at it over the course of weeks, months, and take stock of the other things you have been doing to add value. It’s a great basis for discussion and isn’t a last-minute thing as you’ve been cataloguing throughout the year.”
THE THREE-MINUTE SUMMARY: INTERESTING TAKEAWAYS
- MEN AND WOMEN APPROACH INTERVIEWS DIFFERENTLY. With a long history of workforce negotiations, men tend to display increased confidence – they’re more likely to apply for jobs whose spec they don’t meet, and they have practised negotiation skills. Women sometimes feel they should display gratitude rather than an adversarial approach. They’re statistically less likely to apply for a job where they don’t feel competent, or where they can’t tick every requirement.
- WOMEN MAY NEED NEGOTIATION PRACTICE… BUT THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR FAIR SALARY SHOULDN’T FALL SOLELY TO THEM. Companies have a responsibility to ‘show up’, says Kimberly Jones, and to be the type of company which can confidently validate every salary. Virgile agrees – work is needed, but companies need to tackle the issue and make negotiations fair.
- LOOK AT TOTAL COMPENSATION. Kimberly Jones coaches her candidates to consider the entire package. Flexible working, vacation days, and merit-based promotion all have monetary value, so the conversation shouldn’t rotate around a single figure.
- PRACTICE THE CONVERSATION. Henna Pryor recommends practising negotiation techniques and preparing for the salary review by annotating additional responsibilities on your last job description.
- COMPENSATION STRUCTURE PAVES THE WAY FOR TRANSPARENCY. Some companies appear to ‘magic up’ the salary offer, says recruitment expert Hung. For Kimberly Jones, transparency isn’t an issue if the employer has a fair structure in the first place. “I can validate every single difference, so I would never shy away from a conversation about salary checks.”