Thursday, May 20, 2010

Negotiations, Part 1: The Gender Issue

There's been some talk around the academic blogs lately about gender and working conditions: issues of mobility, salary compression (also here), and spousal hiring in general. And I, got to thinking about how we do or don't ask for more when we deserve it. I, like most people I know, took my first (and currently only) TT job without much in the way of negotiation, just happy that I had a job. Hell, I had no way to know what to negotiate for. More money? Well, there was only a narrow salary window at our unionized school, and I was placed smack in the middle of it. Other resources? Well... what? See, they don't cover this in all those mock-interviews you do in grad school.

And then, Historiann sent me a link to an article in the New York Times about women and salary negotiation (in the context of non-academic jobs, but whatever), and I got to really thinking again about the gender dynamic. And so I sat my butt down to write a post. And it appears that I have Opinions, because lo, I did go on and on. So I present here part one of a two-part post, partially in response to the NYT article, and partially some other random thoughts. Even broken down into two parts, it's a bit on longer than my usual posts, just FYI.

Let me start off by pointing out a nifty feature of the article: it has some nice figures (with links to the studies) from the research on the pay gap. It's worth looking at, so you have ammo if you ever end up in a conversation with one of those boneheads who insist that the pay gap is a feminist myth. It's not. In fact, when I was in Exotic Research City, the newspaper published results of a study that showed that, in the most recent six months of that country's economic crisis, the pay gap between men and women there had gone from a difference of 12% (much less of a gap than U.S. figures) to 17%. So things may be even worse than we yet know.

But, on to some other bits and snippets:

Snippet #1: "Even now, when women represent half the work force, they’re still paid considerably less than men — and part of that pay gap may be a result of what happens at the salary negotiation table."

Well, yes. But for academics, we have to add the fact that the most critical moment for this is at the first negotiation: when you are offered the job. Once you account for deductions, an extra $1,000 a year may not be much to start with, but most of our raises are based on a percentage of what we are already making, so that adds up over the course of a career. Also, academia has very few institutionalized opportunities to negotiate salary after this point (more on the non-institutionalized ones below), so this is an important moment. Yet the moment comes at a time when you are feeling less powerful than you actually are – most of us were just grateful that someone wanted to give us a chance, so we didn't think to ask for more than we were already getting.

Snippet #2: "So what’s a woman to do if she feels her work merits a raise?"

There is a problem that the NYT skips right over here: that most women don't ever feel this way, or at least not strongly enough that they don’t talk themselves out of it. That's a gender thing, pure and simple, and it's the first obstacle to overcome. Look at the work you do, compared to the expectations of your institution. If you can, get hold of salary figures for comparable colleagues. Pretend you are evaluating someone who isn't you: Is this person being underpaid?

Snippet #3: "In industries where salary standards were ambiguous, women accepted pay that was 10 percent lower, on average, than men."

And that about characterizes academia: they offer you a job (hooray!), then name a number. You have no context. Even if context is available (for example, published salaries of state employees in some states), you probably don't know about it. Are they lowballing you? Can you ask for more? How much? I have no answers here, except to see if your state is one that publishes salary figures. If I could do it all over again, I'd find something that seems reasonable, then ask for $1,000 more, because chances are that if you're facing your first job offer, you're underestimating what "reasonable" is. Remember: they won't rescind your offer for asking. If you get really intransigent, they might decide that negotiations have broken down, but a reasonable employer won't walk away on the first volley.

Moving on to the deeper gender dynamics:

Snippet #4: "A new study concludes that women need to take a different approach than men. Women, it suggests, should frame their requests in more nuanced ways to avoid undermining their relationship with their boss. […] You may be asking yourself, as I did, whether negotiating in ways more favorable for women means that we’re just succumbing to stereotypes — or whether the ends justify the means. […] 'When a woman negotiates persuasively for higher compensation, she clears the path for other women to follow.'


"Instead of explaining why you deserve a raise directly, for instance, frame it in terms of why it makes sense for the organization or the person you’re trying to persuade. 'Make the company the focus.' "

I agree with the statement that we're helping other women when we help ourselves. But the column author completely sidesteps the original question of the dangers of catering to gender expectations in our negotiation strategies. And just as every successfully negotiated raise normalizes the process for the women who follow us, so too does negotiating within gender confines perpetuate those confines for the next generation. The suggestion that we frame it in terms of others' needs, rather than our own, is a bad trap to play into. On the other hand, most of us, including those who consider ourselves feminists, have at least in part internalized the "nice women try to get along and don't make waves" part of the feminine mandate, so this negotiation style may be the only one we're comfortable with. It's a problem, and not one that I have an answer to.

But the important thing is that, once you've decided you do deserve more, you act on it. I think it's a good idea to time your requests to specific accomplishments. For example, if your university is cutting faculty lines, lecturer positions, and classes, this is probably not the best time to ask for a raise. But it's not too early to think about it, and to plan your strategy. If your research or teaching has recently won a competitive award (internal or external), you've got a very good platform. But these accomplishments don't come along very often, so look for other opportune moments. Have salary freezes meant that your incoming colleagues have leapfrogged your salary? Negotiate on the basis of equity. Your university may even have specific procedures in place for equity raises, but they just don't advertise them. Talk to your union rep, if you have one; they will know. Do you need more non-monetary resources (lab equipment, for example)? Outline specifically why you need what you need, and what you will do with it. Did you just get a big grant that brings money and prestige to the university? Mention it. Likewise if your work has been the subject of a special profile in the alumni magazine or periodic newsletter: if your work is valuable enough to them that they're trumpeting it, then you should kindly but firmly invite them to put their money where their mouth is.

Most importantly (and this goes back to point #2), practice not underrating your own accomplishments. ("Oh, everyone gets an NEH sooner or later… I was just lucky." NO. Luck may play a role, but you also kicked ass. Don't ever forget it.) If you really have trouble taking reasonable pride in your own accomplishments for your own sake, then do it for other women who come after you, who need a model for success.

Okay, so this has been more about what to do once you're already in a job. But what about that first negotiation? What should you ask for? More on that tomorrow.


clio's disciple said...

Depending on your field, there may be some sources of salary data--hasn't the AHA published some? I know I looked up a table in the Chronicle.

When I took my job last year, though, there was no wiggle room whatsoever. None. And most of my colleagues took significant pay cuts last year. Sometimes, there's only so much you can get.

FrauTech said...

I don't know if it's a woman thing or if it was just particular to us. Published salaries existed when I got my first full time job but of course I had no idea and completely lowballed myself.

I think this is a bad economic time for this kind of advice to be out there. I've been negotiating for pay for over two years now. I've had my bosses agree with me and say they'll do what I can. But as of yet nothing more seems to be done for me than is done for any other person. This is where CPP pipes up and says that means you have to move on and get a competing offer from somewhere else. Geographically this is a lot easier for me than any academic, but given the job market it hasn't been possible no matter how hard I've tried. And frankly the job market's been pretty crappy for the last ten years. I think in cases like that it only propagates the wage gap. Much like all those articles about men being a minority in the workplace, or FSP's issues with her underpaid male colleagues, sometimes it feels like you can only move backwards.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

FrauTech, you're absolutely right about the timing issue -- I address that in the following post. But while it's a bad time to be negotiating, it's not a bad time for the advice to be out there. In fact, for those of us not comfortable negotiating, it's good to practice this in our heads over and over. By the time things do simmer down in the economy, we may actually be able to face those chairs and deans and say, "Yes, I deserve this -- give it to me."

Bookbag said...

I'm late to the game on this one, but I thought this post was spot on. I just quoted a big chunk of this post chez moi because I noticed a similar problem -- women downplaying their accomplishments -- at the conferences I went to this year. It was shocking to see how many women shrugged off accolades or claimed they weren't that big a deal, in marked contrast to male scholars who made no apologies at all. It was a really sobering experience to see that sort of gendered dynamic at work.