How women can improve chances at raise, promotion

By Meg Fry
New Jersey | Feb 9, 2018 at 9:46 am
From our print edition

It was some years ago, Linda Weber said, that she decided to enter into discussions regarding her next role after having run a business for a Fortune 500 firm.

“That is when a male boss, about my age, reached across the table, patted my hand and said, ‘Have you thought about this?’ ” Weber, currently senior vice president of cash management at IDB Bank in New York City, said. “As if to say this may not be a decision I really wanted to make. As if to say he knew better for me. As if, in my career, at the senior level I had reached, I had not really given much thought to my decisions.

“I have experienced many times in my career such inherent patronizing, if you will, of my thought processes, my requests and the decisions that I have made.”

Welcome to what is all too often the women’s side of the negotiating table.

While negotiating is no easy task for any employee, women often face additional difficulties when doing so, whether they are navigating a return from family leave, balancing work and care responsibilities, or overcoming conscious or unconscious bias within what is often a male-dominated corporate culture.

Now, in an era of exceedingly publicized sexism and harassment in corporate America, the pay inequities that have resulted from such gender-specific challenges are also finding the spotlight.

In New Jersey alone, women, on average, continue to make 81 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the most recent wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Furthermore, only 12 percent of high earners in New Jersey are women, according to Executive Women of New Jersey’s and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2017 “A Seat at the Table” report.

While some studies historically have shown women employees to negotiate their salaries less frequently than men, more recent research, such as McKinsey & Co.’s and LeanIn.org’s 2017 “Women in the Workplace” report, suggests that women of all ethnicities and backgrounds are now negotiating for raises and promotions at rates comparable to their male counterparts.

In fact, women at the senior level are asking more frequently.

So why, then, are women still 18 percent less likely than men to receive the advancement they request?

ROI-NJ spoke with various women’s organizations, professors and business consultants, as well as executive women who have negotiated to get where they are today to find out.

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The gap begins with a woman’s first job.

Whether or not equal salaries are offered to both women and men at the start, women especially need to learn that negotiation is not only expected, but also valued, Lee Miller, managing director of Red Bank-based NegotiationPlus.com and co-author of “A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating,” said.

“If you don’t negotiate for your salary, people may wonder: If she’s not negotiating for herself, will she negotiate for the company?” Miller said. “Frankly, from a company’s point of view, if you don’t ask, you will not get. And rarely does a company offer everything they have to start. The first offer is never the best. Recruiters and human resource professionals understand that, if they immediately give you their best offer, they’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Flore Dorcely-Mohr, director of online career services for Berkeley College, said new graduates, both men and women, are often not confident enough to accept this fact and utilize it to their advantage. In New Jersey,  Berkeley College has campuses in Dover, Newark, Paramus, Woodbridge and Woodland Park.

However, the confidence gap is exacerbated for women, especially minority women, she added.

“They think, ‘What power or experience do I have to make the argument that this employer should pay me more?’” Dorcely-Mohr said. “Minority women especially have been brought up to simply take any job and make the best of it.”

According to a 2016 Glassdoor survey, 68 percent of women accepted the salary they were first offered and did not negotiate — a 16 percentage point difference when compared to men (52 percent).

To further complicate matters, women also are more likely to select work in lower-paying industries or to follow career tracks that lead to becoming the head of human resources or marketing, Barbara Kauffman, president-elect and board appointments committee chair of Executive Women of New Jersey and chief operating officer of the Newark Regional Business Partnership, said.

“If one observes objectively the roles in which women are promoted, more women are promoted to roles that do not have profit and loss responsibilities,” Kauffman said. “Though they are serving in extremely critical roles that are just as important to the company’s bottom line, because they have not had any profit and loss responsibilities, they are not in as a strong of a position as someone who has when it comes time to negotiate a raise or promotion.”

A 2016 study from Cornell University found that the difference in roles that men and women select has, in fact, become the single largest contributor to the gender pay gap.

However, another study from the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of Pennsylvania recently found when women move into traditionally male-dominated occupations in large numbers, those same jobs start to pay less, despite higher levels of education, experience and skill.

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How an employer perceives the value of a woman’s work — and how they handle themselves, not only in negotiations, but also in their role — can have a negative effect on a female employee’s confidence.

“Women are sometimes seen as being too aggressive when they negotiate,” Kauffman said. “Therefore, a cautious woman may think, ‘I don’t want to come across that way, so I’m going to soft pedal this and not push for what I believe I deserve.’”

Miller said he therefore believes in teaching different negotiation skills to men and women to overcome this reluctance.

“There are many skills that are effective for men that might not be for women, and vice versa,” he said. “If a woman sees a man getting good results by raising his voice and making demands, she may try to copy that and not be successful.

“We have certain societal expectations of gender roles and, while we don’t to have to comport with those roles, we can’t ignore them.”

One such expectation is that women will be fairer when it comes to their salary requests, Michael McAteer, dean of the School of Professional Studies at Berkeley College in Woodland Park, said.

“Women tend to see a negotiation as part of the relationship with their superior,” he said. “Therefore, a poor negotiation would not only affect their working relationship, but also her opportunities.

“Men, on the other hand, see negotiation as its own business and believe that, once it is over, they can simply go back to being friends. That is why they are more likely to try to get the most out of a company that they can.”

Weber said she also believes that, while women — and companies — feel they need to be more educated and experienced to step into a new role, men will request or be granted a promotion based on their potential.

“I’ve hired and mentored a lot of women over my 30-year career in technology and banking, and what I’ve found is that women feel they need to be operating at a much higher level, at 175 percent, before they even ask for a promotion or a raise,” she said. “I haven’t found this to be the case with men.”

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The high expectations and pressure placed on women by both themselves and their employers can further complicate a woman’s desire and ability to raise a family.

“The idea of family leave and flexibility, which isn’t always available with higher-paying jobs, can sometimes outweigh dollar amounts,” Dorcely-Mohr said. “Sometimes, women feel they need to make that difficult choice.”

Employers sometimes will even make that choice for them, Miller said.

“Women are more likely to let people know that they need to work to take care of their family, making it clear to the company that they’re going to stay no matter what,” he said. “You would think companies would value that loyalty and reward it, but the reality is, if you’ve got a limited budget for raises and one person is making it clear that if they don’t receive a raise, they’re leaving, the company is going to give the raise to that person over the more committed person.”

Still, McAteer said, he believes that women should more often view and present their decision to take leave to start a family as a positive.

“Don’t feel you need to apologize for what you’ve done,” he said. “The fact that you have sorted a work-life balance and returned should be interpreted as a level of maturity that an employer should value, as opposed to someone who may not be ready to commit to their career.”

What the 2017 “Women in the Workforce” report found, however, is that less than 2 percent of women surveyed planned to leave the workforce to focus on family.

Instead, what it uncovered is that women are getting stuck in managerial roles, while men are getting more promotions to executive leadership positions without even asking.

“At every level, men are more likely to say they haven’t asked for a raise because they got what they wanted without asking or say they are already well compensated,” Alexis Krivkovich, managing partner of McKinsey & Co. in Silicon Valley, and co-author of the report, said.

This pervasive unconscious bias also was recently highlighted in Time magazine, when a group of women who had transitioned to men spoke out about their experiences.

“As soon as they came out as men, they found their missteps minimized and their successes amplified,” Charlotte Alter wrote. “Often, they say, their words carried more weight. They seemed to gain authority and professional respect overnight. They also saw confirmation of the sexist attitudes they had long suspected: They recalled hearing female colleagues belittled (and sexualized) by male bosses, or female job applicants called names.”

According to the 2017 “Women in the Workforce” report, while more than 90 percent of the companies surveyed said prioritizing gender and ethnic diversity leads to better business results, only 37 percent of employees surveyed agreed.

In fact, men are much more likely to believe that gender diversity has been achieved, with nearly 50 percent of men stating that women are well-represented in companies where only one in 10 senior leaders is a woman.

The result? A massive wage gap that, in New Jersey, would cost a white, non-Hispanic woman $776,500 over a 40-year career when compared to a white, non-Hispanic man; a black woman, $1,245,500; and a Latina woman, $1,678,760.

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The negotiation and pay gaps are certainly not irreversible if employers are willing to help further change, Weber said.

“The first thing employers can do is to make sure that they have policies that equalize employment offers and pay grades,” she said. “If they can implement these kinds of policies and actually monitor themselves, they also will then need to have the courage to deal with executives who may not have the same perspectives.”

Weber — a Berkeley Heights resident currently running for Congress in the 7th Congressional District of New Jersey —  therefore believes that statewide and federal laws may be needed to affect such hiring changes.

For example, Gov. Phil Murphy, as his first official action after being sworn into office, signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from asking job applicants about their salary history.

“That helps to eliminate the systemic problem that, once women are paid lower, they always will be paid lower, because an offer will be made against their previous salary history as opposed to what the job truly is worth,” Weber said.

Employers also need to be willing to go above and beyond the mentorship of women and instead provide greater sponsorship and advocacy of female employees, Kauffman said.

“A sponsor plays the role of actually affording opportunities,” she said. “They can accelerate one’s career by meeting with the employee for one-on-one coaching and advocating on one’s behalf throughout the negotiation process.”

Krivkovich said it is particularly important that women proactively seek such advice and support from managers and senior leaders when requesting promotions or advancement.

“Women are less likely to receive it from managers without asking,” she said.

Michellene Davis, president of Executive Women of New Jersey and the executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health, said the statewide senior-level executive women’s organization is specifically designed to help companies, as well as employees, achieve gender equality in this way.

“For any organizations that are asking, how can we better push back the tides of inequality when advancing women and their wages, we are supremely poised to have those discussions with chief executive officers and human resources officers about what it is they can do differently,” Davis said.

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Women, Davis said, need to begin the process by recognizing that it has not yet been engrained in corporate culture that women, too, are expected to negotiate.

“Men have a pattern and practice — a historical precedent and a cultural norm — unto which they can refer,” she said. “So, when women aim to negotiate across gender lines, the anticipation and expectations of that negotiation often have not yet been cultivated within that corporate space. As a result, one of the barriers to negotiation for women is that they may catch their superior by surprise.”

It is therefore that much more important that women enter into negotiations well-researched and prepared, Davis added.

“First, researching what the market pays for your particular role will help you begin the process,” she said. “You can then begin to look at the negotiation not as an ask for yourself, but simply a statement that this is how the market, based on others with similar portfolios, skillsets and backgrounds, currently values your work.”

Davis then recommends adding dollars to one’s current “market value” by leveraging the experience one has gained at the company.

“How have your skills, talents and abilities been enriched and enhanced since your onboarding?” Davis said. “Capitalize on your training and experience to further narrow that pay gap.”

Weber said one can demonstrate such high performance by being organized and thorough at the start.

“I have always been a fan of documentation and completeness in everything I do,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re acknowledging and overcoming any opportunity human resources or whatever hierarchy in the organization has to say no.”

Weber also recommends practicing the art of negotiation whenever the opportunity arises.

“Women need to seek out opportunities within their career to negotiate beyond their own salaries,” she said. “There are business negotiations across the board, whether it’s with vendors or customers or within mergers and acquisitions.

“While these opportunities to negotiate will be different across industries and in different roles, it can boost our confidence if we learn how to do it in other situations and not just with our own roles.”

Dorcely-Mohr said that the next step would be to talk with others outside of the organization about how best to approach the conversation.

“Pay can sometimes be an emotional issue for women,” she said. “They take it personally or believe someone maybe has cheated them. So, it is especially important for them to discuss the issues with someone they trust outside of their work.

“Often times, it is easier for me as a career counselor to advocate for someone else than it is for myself. When someone can objectively take apart all the different aspects of your role that are of value, it may be easier for you to then see your situation as objectively as you should.”

Finally, McAteer recommends rehearsing the conversation as realistically as possible.

“Effective negotiation is all about understanding what the other party wants and what one must trade for,” he said. “All too frequently, when the boss you must negotiate with is male, his thought processes and wants will tend to be different.

“Women start with a deficit in that a male boss often will not fully understand what they want. They must be prepared to explain their request in detail.”

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Negotiation, regardless of whether a superior is male or female, requires first looking through the right lens, Davis said.

“Women, particularly women of color and of certain backgrounds, often are encouraged to be more accommodating and concerned with the welfare of others from a very young age,” she said. “That ultimately can work to one’s benefit.

“Early in my career, I realized that I am much more likely to argue on behalf of another, to negotiate much more assertively for members of my family, my community or my organization than I am for myself. Women need to flip this lens to view ourselves as agents of the organization. Because negotiating for others tends to be behavior consistent with traditional female gender roles, we may actually feel more comfortable pushing harder as a result.”

Women essentially need to get comfortable saying, what is better for me is better for the organization, she said.

“My having more resources, being treated and paid more equitably, having better opportunity — how does that better the organization?” Davis said. “Well, it means I am better able to promote and propel forward the members of my team, too.”

Dorcely-Mohr said it often behooves women, especially, to show that they actually are on the same side of the negotiating table.

“It doesn’t matter what your bills are or what your budget is — it matters what the business will get from your promotion,” she said. “You need to let your superior know that, bottom line, this is what you are doing for the company in terms of cost savings and revenue, and what new skills and ideas you have utilized to help build and grow the business, make more money and create larger markets.”

Specificity is key, Krivkovich added, noting that women are 25 percent more likely than men to forgo asking for a specific amount of money when negotiating.

“People who ask for a specific amount receive a greater increase in compensation on average than those who don’t,” she said. “Interestingly, the actual amount of money you ask for is less important.

“It is the act of making the ask specifically tied to dollars that matters.”

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Negotiation often can mean more than money, Kauffman said.

“As women think strategically about their careers, they need to think about getting that valuable profit and loss experience that will lead them to creating a stronger case to negotiate,” she said.

Negotiation often can mean taking on higher-level responsibilities with a new title or better perks in which to balance work, life and family.

“When you focus only on the raise, you’re doing women a disservice,” Miller said. “Being successful in your career isn’t only about salary. Men know this and, therefore, negotiate every aspect of it from the start, from their staffing and budgets to their bonuses and paid time off.

“Women tend to want to wait to figure all of that out and then ask. But when you are negotiating for a job, that is when you have the most leverage to get everything you want. A potential boss may look at your request and said, ‘Wow, this person is really thinking ahead and wants to make sure that we are setting them up for success.’ They will be that much more inclined to give you more of what you want in that moment.”

Still, McAteer said, the needle only will begin to move when the focus shifts from a female employee and her level of confidence and preparation onto the employer willing to take on more responsibility and accountability in the negotiation process.

“The hierarchy of industry in general is very male-dominated, so there is very little incentive to change how decisions are made,” he said. “They assume that all of their decisions have been correct if they have been successful and see any change as risky.

“That is very prevalent in today’s marketplace. It’s about getting people at the top to change their perspective and see the value of a more diverse workforce.”

Weber said that, while things have come a long way since her memorable negotiation in the boardroom, she, too, thinks we in America have a long way to go.

“We are all raised in the same sexist society,” she said. “Even our male counterparts who think of themselves as feminist may still be operating within some unconscious bias.”

Women entrepreneurship

Rana Shanawani, executive director of the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship in Chatham, said women commonly undervalue themselves.

“We find that our clients are often not charging what their products and services are worth,” Shanawani said. “We also often hear that our clients are constantly asked for ‘freebies,’ which they reluctantly accept out of fear of losing potential future business. And, finally, when our clients go to close a transaction, we find that it takes them multiple meetings, whereas men are usually able to close with one.

“Coaching and education is monumentally important to push women over these hurdles.”

The Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which focuses exclusively on women entrepreneurs with startups up to $1 million companies, offers courses to both its clients and women in the community to help them further their business.

“We teach courses, for example, on how to negotiate and close sales as women, and then we have a yearlong, peer-based, women-only program with a curriculum written by a millionaire entrepreneur designed to not only help women manage and scale up their businesses, but also handle all of the other issues that women deal with in their lives.”

Shanawani said that the women she works with at the center often are dealing with work-life balance issues that men are not.

“They definitely feel that the time and ability they have to invest in their business is much more limited than their male counterparts,” she said. “Many times, businesses will reach a certain point and plateau because suddenly there are family issues that start to monopolize the extra time they would need.”

#MeToo

Linda Weber, senior vice president of cash management at IDB Bank in New York City and current candidate for Congress in the 7th Congressional District of New Jersey, said the pay gap between men and women in the workplace cannot simply be blamed on the idea that women negotiate less.

“It also involves the sexual politics of being a woman in spaces that are dominated by men in senior positions,” she said. “Now that these issues are being brought out publicly — and I would imagine virtually every woman in corporate America can point to an issue they’ve experienced or saw — we have to consider those women who were shut out of corporate spaces because they did not acquiesce to behavioral expectations or a superior’s advances.

“I have heard many stories from attorneys to engineers to all sorts of roles where women have been held back or felt they had to leave a firm because they were made to feel uncomfortable by male bosses.

“We have to understand that this exists and is part of this narrative as well.”

Gender split

If there are differences in the way women and men must negotiate based on employer bias or unconscious bias, should there be courses designed only for women?

Lee Miller, managing director of NegotiationPlus.com and co-author of “A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating,” said yes.

“If men are learning and training in those skills more so than women, they will be promoted and given higher salaries, further compounding the gender gap,” Miller said.

Miller, an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and Columbia University, will teach his next Influencing and Negotiating workshop series at Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business in March.

The first session, Strategic Influencing and Communication, can be taken in a gender-neutral context designed for both men and women, or with women only in a course that particularly focuses on situations relevant mostly to women.

“While it is fairly unique that the essentials of negotiation can be taught separately to women and the more advanced classes taught to both genders together, the women’s seminars that I have taught for nearly two years seem to be working well,” Miller said.

The workshop series is open to all students and members of the business community as a professional development and continuing education opportunity.

Flore Dorcely-Mohr, director of online career services for Berkeley College in Clifton, said she views gender-specific negotiation workshops a bit differently.

“If you do have women-only classes, you run the risk of marginalizing the experience,” she said. “People may not necessarily think it’s something that may also affect them, because they’re not in that class.

“Although I think it’s important to teach course that focus on the specific experiences of women, it shouldn’t be that women only are going to these classes. The solution is not only with women — the issue also is with men.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Linda Weber at: info@lindaweberforcongress.com.

Reach Lee Miller at: negotiate@earthlink.net.

Reach the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corp. at: rshanawani@wcecnj.org.

Meg Fry | mfry@roi-nj.com | megfry3