Closing the salary gap: Negotiating tactics for female graduates

May 18, 2011

According to Even fresh out of college, women still make less than men, "the average Class of 2010 female with a new bachelor's degree received a $36,451 starting salary - 17 percent less than the $44,159 her average male peer received." Pamela O'Leary, executive director of Public Leadership Education Network, and Alyssa Best, career coach, trainer and speaker, discussed salary negotiation tactics for females graduating college.

Hi!  This is Pamela O'Leary and Alyssa Best. We are excited to chat with you today about salary negotiation techniques.

We think this is such a critical issue because women ask for raises or promotions 85% less than their male counterparts.

Please bear with us for a moment as we are experiencing difficulty viewing your questions and will respond in a moment.

How do you even know where to begin with salaries?  Where do you go to find out how much you should be making to even know what to negotiate for?

Great question!  This brings us to our first point which is that it is very important to do your homework in advance by utilizing online salary resources such as;; and

In addition, the best way to gain insight into salary ranges is to tap your network.  For example, when you set up an informational interview with a colleague, you can ask "What is an appropriate salary range in your company for someone with my level of experience?"

What's the best way to negotiate for a salary?

Once you have done your homework and have established the salary range appropriate to the position, go through your entire personal budget and figure out the lowest number you can accept, then create a middle and a high number.  This is the process to establish your desired salary range. 

The next technique is to delay talking about money as long as possible. It's best to stall until the employer brings up money first.  The first person to mention a number is automatically in the less powerful position. For some stalling techniques, please see this blog post.

If an offer you receive is less than you expected, how do you ask for more? Is there a reasonable maximum increase that you can ask for?

If you take nothing else away from this talk, remember this magic phrase: "$__ is very important to me.  What can we do to get me closer to this number?" Then stop talking, smile, and breathe!

Wait until the employer responds.  It's possible they will come back with a higher number.  If they are unable to give you more money, you then negotiate other things such as benefits: vacation time, flex-time, better title, etc. 

How much back and forth should there be?  When do you know when it's time to stand your ground and when it's time to meet them in the middle even more?

A negotiation should take as long as it needs to in order to come to a resolution.  Remember you have the upper hand- they have offered you a job and they want you to accept.  Don't underestimate your worth!  Keep in mind that your future salary history will be based on this number.

Make sure to clarify the full benefits package before you accept an offer.  You can always request at least 24 hours to consider the offer.   This is especially important if you are anticipating other offers.

If they are unable to meet your salary request at this time, you can also ask for a 3 or 6 month review to revisit your salary goals.

Make sure to get the final terms of the salary negotiation in writing.

How much of the salary gap do you think we can attribute to women not asking for raises? All the men I know negotiated their salaries, where most of my female friends just take the first offer. I've always found employers willing to negotiate, you just have to ask!

We recognize there are institutional reasons for the gender pay gap (see, the problem is also compounded by individual women not negotiating.   In our work with young women, we have found that women face the following barriers to negotiation to name a few:

  1. feels like a confrontation
  2. will be seen as aggressive
  3. afraid offer will be rescinded
  4. perceived as greedy

Is salary negotiating really that different for males vs. females?  I just don't see how.

Indeed, the statistics speak for themselves! Unfortunately, women are often socialized to not toot their own horns and advocate for themselves. This plays out in many forums especially when negotiating a job offer.

As a result, we want to be a part of the solution. The two of us have teamed up to offer salary negotiation trainings for college women who participate in PLEN's public policy seminars in Washington, DC.   We think it's really important to prepare young women to negotiate their first salaries and advocate for themselves.  It's great you are taking the time to explore this issue and be on this chat now!

How do you negotiate compensation for a contract position with an organization (especially as benefits are not on the table)? Is it still appropriate to consult the organization's salary schedule?

It's likely that a company will have a different compensation structure for contractors.   It's best to try to clarify their fee structure as well as continuing to advocate for the unique skills you possess.

Is it possible that the pay gap could be attributed to the number of male CEOs vs female CEOs, etc? It seems that in high paying technical fields there is a significantly higher proportion of males.

Yes, it's very possible the lack of women in key leadership roles contributes to this pay discrepancy.  Organizations such as PLEN strive to increase the number of women in leadership roles. 

Each year, PLEN brings women students from colleges and universities across the country to Washington, D.C. for a weekend, week, or an entire summer to experience first-hand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level.

Students meet with and learn from women leaders making and influencing public policy at the highest levels in the Congress, courts, federal agencies, corporate sector, policy research and advocacy organizations and the news media.

Women need role models to show them these career opportunities are possible.

If your company does salary review regularly at the end of the year, is it too much to ask for consideration of a raise in the middle of the year as well?

Make sure you have a strong sense of where the company is financially- for example, do you reasonably think the company is thriving and able to give you more? If so, it's definitely reasonable to ask in the middle of the year.   Also, make sure you have enough personal accomplishments by that time to clearly merit a raise.

You indicated average salaries for male and female grads. Do you have information on the mean and median salaries? Those figures seem high to me compared to job postings I have seen for entry-level, professional jobs with a BA only. Are these figures self-reporting so that those without successful job searches may not have shared their information? Is there any data by major?

Female new college graduates earn 17 percent less than their male counterparts

Are there any other questions please?

Next Friday, Alyssa and I will be hosting a salary negotiation training for the students participating in PLEN's Women & International Policy seminar. For more information about professional development opportunities, please check out our websites: and Thanks so much for investing in your future and participating in today's chat. In conclusion, the only sure way not to receive more money is to not ask. You're worth it!

In This Chat
Pamela O'Leary
Pamela is the Executive Director of PLEN. She grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in Environmental Science. Pamela earned an M.A. in Applied Women’s Studies from Claremont Graduate University, serving as a teaching assistant at Scripps College and completing a graduate internship at the Office of the Focal Point for Women at the United Nations.

She first came to Washington, DC as a Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI) Congressional Fellow, working in the Office of Representative Carolyn Maloney. Prior to becoming PLEN’s Executive Director, Pamela worked as Development Manager for the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, Call Time Manager for Representative Maloney’s campaign, and a Resident Consultant for Alpha Omicron Pi. Currently she serves on the Board of Directors of Running Start, an organization dedicated to inspiring young women to run for public office and is a Facilitator for the Elect Her-Campus Women Win program .
Alyssa Best
As a career coach, trainer, and speaker, Alyssa offers guidance and skills on topics related to career and professional development to build leadership for social change. She has mentored and worked with emerging leaders at Wider Opportunities for Women, the Center for Progressive Leadership, and the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers University. She also conducts outreach and manages training programs for The OpEd Project.

She has trained hundreds of people on career and leadership issues through national conferences, community-based programs, professional development workshops, and the university classroom. She previously served as Chair of the Professional Development Series for WIN (Women’s Information Network). She has been nominated four years in a row (2008-2011) for WIN’s Young Women of Achievement Awards. She holds a Master of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mary Washington College.
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