Best of Systers, Community Voices

Pay Gaps and Compensation Confidence

by Maureen McAvoy Jemison

Along the lines of our earlier post called Getting What you’re Worth we decided to revisit the pay gap between women and men in technical careers. Consider:

  • In a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (April, 2012), the news looks better for women in the 20 most common occupations for women. On average, women earn 82.2% of what men earn. In software development, applications and system software, the percentage is even higher: women earn 86.4% of what men earn. But the percentage of female workers in this occupation is only 18.1%.
  • These wage differences are not just unfair in the day-to-day competitive sense. Consider the lifelong consequences of making 20-30% less than your male counterparts. If your current take-home salary is $60,000 a year, and your male colleague makes $78,0000 a year, that’s an extra $18,000 he can put in his 401k or his kids’ school fund. And over 10 years that adds up to a considerable amount of money.
  • One common explanation for the wage gap is that women take more time off and work fewer overall hours, consequently accumulating less work experience over time. But this study by the United States General Accounting Office states that even “after accounting for factors affecting earnings, women earned an average of 80 percent of what men earned in 2000.”

The original Systers post by Gabriella Asprella Libonati from last summer was a link to this Reddit post in which the writer suggests we all ASK for what we think we’re worth. Starting a job making a higher salary gives you an advantage initially and also down the road. After we contacted Gabriella to ask her permission to post the thread, this was her response:

I learned both through experience/talking to other workers and reading some of the replies to the post, that we should be more confident in asking. Clearly the way we do that, it’s very important and crucial to the outcome, but still I feel that women too often shy themselves away from asking.

I used to believe that if one is good enough, then promotion or pay raises would follow. Though, from experience I learnt that it is not often the case. Men appear to have less issues in putting themselves forward or asking for more – maybe it’s a result of nurture and the historical roles in society.

~Gabriella Asprella Libonati

Here are some of the responses in the thread:

Although I’m one of the women that does negotiate well and also asks for raises etc.  What I think is missing is that companies are the ones that should also play a “fairness” role.  People should be paid what they are worth in the going market, industry, company etc.  Companies should review salaries regularly and make sure that there aren’t huge discrepancies between people that do the same job and are rated similarly.  Salary ranges allow for variations in performance etc.

~Laura Downey

Editor’s note: Laura also commented later that  “there is a big discrepancy in pay between people that do the same job here at my agency” based on recently released Federal salary information you can review here.

I am a hard-core negotiator; in 2006, I said three times, “I’m so sorry that I have to decline your offer. I would love to take the job but since I’m my family’s primary breadwinner, I can’t unless you can pay me <initial offer>+25k.” They negotiated upwards and upwards, and eventually, the hiring manager stayed up until the middle of the night to call his superior in Asia to get me the number I wanted. I took the job.

The next year at review time, I got a 10% raise (what I’d asked for in my self-assessment). I found out later that nobody else in our department got more than 3%. None of them had asked for a specific amount. I felt bad about that, because I found out that the man who I worked most closely with (who had the same title as me, but frankly, slightly stronger skills and definitely more responsibility) was making $15k LESS than me after our raises. He never complained about his pay and told me later that he had accepted the company’s first offer; he congratulated me for negotiating my salary upwards (everyone had heard about the hot new candidate they’d finally managed to hire!) You really do have to bring your game after a negotiation like that! :-)

I never say YES to the first number unless it’s 15% more than the number I had in my head as the desired goal. I’ve actually asked for more when the initial offer was 10% over the number I wanted, and in that job (my most recent one), ended up giving 20% MORE than I had in my head as the “good, fair” number.

ALWAYS, always negotiate. In my experience, if you are calm and cool about negotiations, if you use them as opportunities to remind the company what a great candidate you are and how many problems you can solve for them, you will get way more money AND you will get way more respect day-to-day. I definitely get plum assignments compared to my peers, because I have positioned myself higher in the skill heap. It takes some cajones to say “thanks, but no thanks” to an offer, and men especially will respect you for it.

And here’s another point to remember that this article doesn’t cover. Many times, especially these days, companies CAN’T negotiate on money. So the offer they are making you is a real offer, not just a number to start the game. That’s when you say, OK, yes, I understand the economy is crappy… can you pay for more of my family’s health insurance, can I have more vacation days, can I work four-10s and have every Friday off, can I have an office by myself with trees outside the window… in other words, negotiate for whatever benefits and perks will make you much happier in your day to day life at work. Highlight those things that way, don’t just be a spoiled brat, but realize that the manager probably does have the power to give you more time off, a better seat, etc. I was the only person who had a walled office one place I worked; turns out, I was the only one who ever said as part of the negotiating process, “I really need peace and quiet to work; are there any alternatives to the cubicles?” The office I got was weird and tiny and everyone who ever talked to me about it apologized for it not being fancy, but I LOVED it and it really did improve my productivity.

Hope something here helps you in your next round of negotiations. The biggest thing to think about is what will motivate YOU to make the biggest effort for the company. Maybe it’s not money; maybe it’s time off, an office, whatever. The company is excited about you and wants to “catch” you, so this is your opportunity to get what you want. Later on, it’s highly unlikely, and any improvement you make to your situation at the outset (or any disadvantage you accept) will only be compounded throughout your time with a company.

~Julia Ziobro

I have successfully negotiated either somewhat higher pay, a small signing bonus (doubt this would happen in the current economy), or extra vacation, but it has been rare that the hiring manager has had much wiggle room within company policy or the pay range for the job. I  found that where strict pay ranges are enforced, you get punished for  having negotiated well at the start by getting a low raise the next year in order to stay within the range. I live in the Northeast US and  my experience both as an employee and a hiring manager in several companies has been that there is little flexibility in negotiations, although there’s usually some – and I’ve learned to try.  I’ve also learned that in the current climate, many prospective employers are lowballing like crazy. Being unemployed makes you no less worthy of a particular salary than an employed person with the same skills, but only that the hiring manager assumes you’ll be more desperate and take anything. There is a definite and well-documented bias against the unemployed this time around that was not experienced by many of us who lost jobs in the dot com bust.

~Dale Wolff

This is handy to know if you’re working in the private sector.  In the public sector, for the most part, there is no negotiation.  I started at exactly the same rate as every other Systems Developer II, regardless of gender.  I get the exact same raises as anyone else gets, and I get step increases according to the same calendar as everyone else.  I once got a merit bonus for stepping up and doing the work of my supervisor while we were between supervisors for a month or so.  But even that was a difficult thing for them to finagle for me.

~Siobhan Perricone

They recently stopped allowing the state to pay for bottled water (though in my office, we’ve been paying for it out of pocket since forever).  I expect soon to be charged for the air I breathe, as well.  And to hear the complaints from the public saying “state employees get FREE AIR?! On MY tax dollars?! Who do they think they ARE?”

Though we do have the annual ice cream social coming up, where the higher ups serve us low-life forms Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream on the green. ;)

In a way I prefer not having to negotiate.  Negotiating exhausts me.

When I was applying for jobs at for-profit companies as a software engineer, what helped me with negotiations was Prior to salary negotiations, I would obtain the range from During the negotiations, I would have them tell me what the range was. They are limited in terms of what they can get away with based on the fact that salary ranges for positions are publicly available.

However, there was one instance where I did negotiate for a higher amount – received the top of the range, then discovered someone at my level (Engineer IV) – with less experience and no education was making the same as me. So much for :-)

Maybe if you take the ranges provided by – increase the top of the range by 30%, then eliminate the education requirements from the job description, this is probably how much men are making. ~Jeanine

Does anyone have any comments about how negotiating advice might differ for, say, small companies and startups?

I always have trouble comparing when all the standard advice out there seems to be targeted at gigantic megacorporations with eight layers of bureaucracy between the person interviewing you and the person paying you.

~Christine Spang

My first impression of the initial article was, this company must have a lot of women employees. :-)

Per the article, if men and women are going through the same process, and it appears they are equal in all ways, except in salary negotiations, wouldn’t it make sense for this company to hire more women. If the women are more thoughtful, conservative, and visionary in their decision-making, they could apply these additional skills within the company and further save them money. Wow! If the company saves money, they can invest it and grow, maybe spend it
on equipment, education or tech conferences. The women they hired will benefit in the long-term.

For salary information, try:
* “Association of Information Technology Professionals” AITP

Or maybe:
* “Association for computing Machinery” ACM

Any good tech employment agency will also have salary info. If this isn’t a public company, then the information should be public record. A little searching should find the info.

If it is coming down to negotiations (confidence/communication) skills,
maybe try joining:
* Toastmasters

Or hiring a career counselor that can review your resume, practice interviewing skills, and provide additional tips.  Some Universities offer services, at least they did in the past.

~Peggy Russell

My own observation of a couple of large tech companies was that:
– more men were laid off than women
– a larger fraction of the women in technical roles were laid off
compared with men but this is easily explained by the fact that there are fewer women in the roles at all…

IMHO, however, there were clear systemic factors at work there, too: the women were more conspicuous and were also not getting assigned to the more important projects. Let alone not being in the pool to be appointed, not getting appointed when in the pool…


In summary, we leave you with the advice that it’s wise to negotiate, even if you don’t like it. Do your research by checking some of the web sites referenced here. And keep in mind that the difference between your salary and that of your male colleague could be a considerable amount.