5 Ways to Negotiate for the Paycheck You Deserve When You Work for a Sexist Company

Women, and particularly women of color, find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to getting paid.

The wage gap plays a detrimental role in women’s lives as they are systemically cheated out of money they should be receiving. And as much as unaffected people like to believe that the wage gap is somehow a myth, the statistics don’t lie.

Deniers of the gender wage gap are quick to throw the problem back at us, suggesting that we just don’t ask for raises as much as men do. And although that may be true, it alone doesn’t explain why women are paid less across all industries.

There are some valid reasons for why women as a whole earn less money than men.

One, they’re overrepresented in low paying jobs in the service industry. Two, women have a tendency to take more time off throughout their careers due to family obligations. Three, maybe we really don’t ask for what we deserve.

Yet these reasons don’t explain why women in the same career path, with the same years of experience, and with similar lifestyles still get paid less.

As a feminist who constantly writes and speaks about women in the workplace, it’s a struggle to give advice on how to negotiate salaries. Part of the reason why I hesitate is because women are so often blamed for the way in which their bosses react to their request.

In fact, many times when women do ask for raises, they’re labeled aggressive and demanding, unlike men, who are considered go-getters and forward-thinkers.

And while I’m all for the “Who cares what they think about you?” attitude, I know that being associated with negative stereotypes can have real and detrimental effects for a woman’s career.

But there are ways to ask for what you deserve and leave your boss wondering why they never thought to give it to you in the first place!

1. Start Early

Salary negotiation is much easier to do with a new job offer, and it also sets a good precedent to build up your confidence in your negotiation skills.

Asking for what you deserve early lets your employer know that you don’t intend on being a passive worker. If you’re successful, you will start off ahead of the pack, and this is important since this study states that ten years after graduation, the pay gap widens, and women make 69% of men’s earnings, down from 80% one year after graduation.

We can’t afford to be coy at any point of our careers – but especially during the job application process.

I know that I have definitely asked for less than I deserved, thinking it would set me apart from the rest. I naively believed that if I asked for less money, they would hire me above those other expensive hires!

Well, it doesn’t work out that way.

People are hired for the services and skills that they can provide, not because they’re the cheapest available for the job.

When you’re applying to jobs and they ask you for a salary range, don’t lowball it. Instead, do your research and find out what the median salary rate for a person with your experience and your career level is and pick a range between the median and the high rate.

And don’t forget to hone in on your city. Jobs in big cities can often pay a higher salary, and you’ll need it with the high prices of city living!

2. Know Your Worth

If you don’t know how valuable you are, no one will find out for you.

There are online tools to help you determine what a person with your level of experience and education should be making.

I tried out PayScale.com and found it rather tedious, but very valuable in helping me figure out where I stand in the pay scale compared to others in my career.

The verdict: I should also be asking for a raise!

If a specific tool isn’t available or useful to you, ask a person with a similar job at another firm, or go on a public forum such as Facebook or LinkedIn. If you’d rather stay anonymous, Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit are perfect for this!

Above all, don’t let anyone tell you that the economy is down and you’ll just have to wait until it gets better.

That’s not your fault, and it’s no excuse for not getting paid what you deserve!

I graduated from college mere months before the global financial crisis of 2008 that was so catastrophic it has its own Wikipedia page, but I knew that my skills and knowledge had not depreciated.

I lost all of my job offers in an instant.

It was devastating, and I probably cried every night — but in the end, I really had to learn to sell myself. After countless interviews and negotiations, I learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I am not keeping them to myself.

One particular job offer was very enticing, but since I had done a lot of research before the interview, I knew that their offer was extremely low and not commensurate with my experience. I asked for a raise, and they couldn’t afford it, so I passed up the offer!

I was afraid that I wouldn’t get any other offers, but looking back on it, I’m so glad I waited a little longer for a better offer.

At the time, I was living with my family and although it wasn’t glamorous, I wasn’t going to be homeless if I passed up the offer. Today, I would do things differently if I found myself without a job.

If not taking an offer is not an option, I would take it, but one thing you could try is to ask that your pay rate be reevaluated in six months. If they aren’t willing to do so, take the offer and keep looking.

Arm yourself with information before you start the negotiation process because you will never regret it.

3. Compare Your Salary

I initially wanted to say that you shouldn’t compare your earnings to that of your coworkers, but sometimes this is necessary, and I won’t discourage it outright.

I understand that the gender pay gap is real, and I have firsthand experience with finding out information about a coworker’s pay that made me wonder if I was being short-paid, so you should arm yourself with any information you can get.

It sucked, but I was glad to have that information in my arsenal.

I do, however, suggest that you not use this information in a negotiation because unfortunately, it won’t be taken well. It will seem shrill and vindictive — which is totally not the case, but that’s beside the point.

There is a place to talk about discrimination, and that’s with HR or with a lawyer. In a negotiation, it’s best to express how you are worthy of a raise and not why someone else doesn’t deserve it.

If you are experiencing gender discrimination in the workplace and no one is listening to your complaints, contact the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Filing a complaint with the EEOC is an effective way of bringing to light any discriminatory practices that your employer is exercising, but act fast because there is a statute of limitation on filing complaints with the EEOC.

4. List Your Accomplishments

This advice is best for those who are currently employed and want to ask for a raise, but it’s basically updating your resume to reflect your current skills.

Before you set up your negotiation meeting, make a list of all your career and educational accomplishments from the time of your last raise to today.

Personal accomplishments can be weaved into a negotiation, but need to be handled carefully.

For example, I wouldn’t suggest talking about an upcoming wedding or baby — not because they don’t matter, but because unfortunately, they won’t really help a woman in a negotiation. In fact, it can backfire in a phenomenon we call the “motherhood penalty.”

Its part of this horribly sexist and patriarchal world, but anything that makes it seem like your attention is elsewhere could send a negative message to your boss. Sadly so, many still believe the income of married female employees is not a necessity, and a lot of them likely believe you will leave after a marriage or a child.

But I wouldn’t shy away from talking about personal milestones like a side project, hobby, or blog to show how you are multifaceted, but still dedicated to your work.

It’s definitely advice that changes on a case-by-case basis, but if you know your boss, you should be able to determine what they would value in an employer – focus on that.

You can’t expect that your boss will remember every project where you’ve excelled, so you have to come into a negotiation armed with a list of your own achievements and how they have helped the company.

Give them no room to say you haven’t earned a raise.

5. Be Prepared

Let your boss know what you want to discuss and how much time they should set aside for your presentation.

Yes, presentation.

You don’t need a PowerPoint (though it can’t hurt!), but you need to have your notes so that you don’t forget anything and a notepad to write down any important information. This can’t be rushed, and if the moment isn’t right, it can ruin the meeting.

Maintain a positive outlook and make it clear what you are bringing to the table.

It’s important to discuss common goals so your employer feels that you are ultimately looking out for them as well. And talk a lot about the future. Employers love it when you can think of your career path in the long run, so have a list of professional certifications that you plan on getting or workshops and conferences you plan on attending in the upcoming year.

That list of future accomplishments will be your key to the next raise, so make sure to follow it and check off what you’ve completed.

While I don’t suggest you bring personal expenses into this discussion, it is fair to talk about the increasing cost of living in your city and how you don’t want that to affect your decision to stay with your current employer or move on.

During the negotiation process, whether at a new job or your current job, you’ll probably get told that the economy has taken a toll on the company’s finances and that it’s not the right time, but stick to your guns!

Talk about how you understand those concerns, but change the conversation to the value that you give to your employer.

If the negotiation doesn’t go as planned, don’t just walk away.

Ask your employer what you need to do in order to get a raise and set new goals with a time frame. Have them sign off on this agreement and then get back to work. Just don’t forget to come back when those goals are accomplished!


Ultimately, know that you are worth everything and more.

A job is important to all of us, but if you’re not happy where you are, know that you deserve to work in a better place. If your boss refuses to give you a raise that you know you deserve, don’t be defeated. Use that energy to start looking for an employer that will value you.

If you must walk away, do so! Getting paid what you’re worth shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth.

Sometimes working in a sexist company can wear us down, and I have had my share of grievances and frustrations in the workplace, but I have hope that it won’t always be like this.

If the Girl Scouts can get a Win-Win badge for exceeding in the art of negotiation, so can you!

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Patricia Valoy is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a Civil Engineer, feminist blogger, and STEM activist living in New York City. She writes about feminist and STEM issues from the perspective of a Latina and a woman in engineering. You can read more of her writings on her blog Womanisms, or follow her on Twitter @besito86. Read her articles here and book her for speaking engagements here.