Pay Equity Requires Negotiation? Part 1

April 09, 2008

Buying a new car is not one of my favorite activities. I’m not a good negotiator, and when the deal is finally struck, I’m usually pretty sure that I could have done better.

One study regarding pay equity has found it more likely that men will negotiate for position and salary than women. This finding is particularly disturbing, since it adds one more challenge to women’s quest for equitable pay. I’ll assume that pay negotiation is a key to advancement in certain professions, but there are many companies where it is not. My experience in the electronics industry is at variance with this finding. In this industry, salary negotiations are in fact rare, and when they do occur, outcomes are often unfavorable. Two primary reasons: the people involved are usually not skilled negotiators, and most companies have well-defined starting salaries and merit increase plans that are approved months in advance of their presentation to a prospective or existing employee. Exceptions to those plans are very difficult to sell.

Some attributes do directly influence women’s pay, and last week I spent some time discussing them with an HR professional who has a particularly strong recruiting and employment background. Here’s the result of our brainstorming.

The Interview
Companies that have written position descriptions and salary ranges associated with those positions are more likely to be equitable employers. An interviewer should be able to describe the expectations for the starting position and opportunities for advancement. Generally, companies use salary surveys to establish salary ranges for full-time positions. Equitable companies may use a similar process for determining flex- and part-time compensation rates.

Applicants with co-op or intern experience have a competitive advantage, although relatively few women choose to pursue those experiences. Employees with that experience not only have a starting salary advantage but also tend to be highly ranked throughout their career.

Choosing a company with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and a team culture also increases the likelihood of equitable pay. A five-minute walk through of the work environment will tell the tale. Is the population diverse? Are they actively engaged? Do they seek eye contact in a welcoming manner?

Before making the decision to accept an offer, exercise your networks, including professional organizations, to get the best understanding of the company and its behaviors.

In part 2, I’ll discuss personal attributes that drive advancement.

By:   |   April 09, 2008


  1. Once you get the job, do whatever you can to identify how pay is set. Just because they use a salary survey does not mean they truly recognize either the “going rate” for a particular job or its true value to the company. Previous studies (including about 1500 local governments in Minnesota) found that just going by salary surveys led to an almost automatic 20% discount for jobs performed primarily by women. This was not intentional, just incorporating the old assumptions that women did not need as much money or were only working until the guys came home from the war. When we undertook serious internal job evaluation – unlike salary surveys which usually go by job title alone and how they define the relevant market makes a huge difference – it was easy to identify and correct gender bias in pay. More on this topic (including my chapter on “Beyond One Woman At A Time”) in “Earn More, Move Up,” a research summary published by the Center for Economic Progress in 2007. If you can’t dig up a copy, write me at

  2. Peter Quinn says:

    Hi. I am a long time reader. I wanted to say that I like your blog and the layout.

    Peter Quinn

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