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Sheryl Sandberg's 5 Tips on Salary Negotiation for Women

Posted April 09, 2013

ALT Studies show that most women simply don’t bother negotiating their salary. One study at Carnegie Mellon University found that “57 percent of male students negotiate but only 7 percent of females tried to negotiate for a higher offer,” according to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In (pg. 45).

That’s a real problem. Sandberg’s book is a huge part of the solution.

Sandberg cites a conversation she once had during a dinner with Deborah Gruenfeld, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Stanford to explain why. “Our entrenched cultural ideas associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities and put women in a double bind,” she told Sandberg (pg. 43).

Because female negotiators are going against cultural gender norm, people view her as aggressive and demanding. To combat this, Sandberg offers a pragmatic approach to negotiate the salary that you truly deserve without being perceived as self-serving:

Preface the Deal by Pointing to the General Pay Disparity

“I have advised many women to preface negotiations by explaining that they know that women often get paid less than men so they are going to negotiate rather than accept the original offer,” Sandberg says (pg. 47). It’s an elephant in the room!

The buzz generated from Sandberg’s book is only helping your case. Your decision to counteroffer is not going to come as a huge shock to any employer who doesn’t live in a cave. By pointing to the gender pay disparity, you’re making the statement that you’re not just out for yourself—you’re negotiating to symbolically negotiating for all women. All for one, and one for all!

Smile, and Combine Niceness with Insistence

Sandberg points to Professor Hannah Riley Bowles, who studies gender and negotiations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who believes that, in order to walk away from the negotiation table successfully, women have to “come across as being nice, concerned about others and ‘appropriately’ female.”

Be “relentlessly pleasant,” Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan says, according to Sandberg (Pg. 48). Her advice:

  • Smile frequently
  • Express appreciation
  • Express concern
  • Invoke common interest
  • Emphasize larger goals
  • Approach negotiation as problem-solving rather than a critical stand

Sandberg’s disclaimer: It’s not exactly ideal to have to succumb to female stereotypes in order to earn what we deserve. But, hey, pragmatically, we can change leadership mindset after we play the game and position ourselves as leaders. It’s a means to an end, she says.

Justify Your Negotiation

It’s an unfortunate truth, but men don’t have to justify their negotiation because they are expected to look out for themselves. Women, on the other hand, have to justify their requests – otherwise she comes off as unnaturally non-nurturing and selfish, Sandberg says.

She offers these examples in her book:

My manager suggested I talk with you about my compensation (point to someone more senior)

My understanding is that jobs that involve this level of responsibility are compensated at this range. (Point to industry market value).

Speak Communally – “We Instead of I”

Since women are stereotyped as communal, generous and nurturing, employers will react positively to your request if you use “we” instead of “I” as much as possible.

“As silly as it sounds, pronouns matter,” Sandberg says. Her suggestion: We had a great year.  Vs. I had a great year.

“Pretend to have the confidence you don’t yet feel.”

Sandberg is a full-fledged supporter of the “fake it ‘till you make it” method. She stressed this point in a talk during a webinar-style Office Hours with Levo League (hat tip, Levo Leaguers!).

When it comes to your negotiation, prepare as best as you can, follow the advice listed above and act confident—even if you aren’t.

It’s normal to feel afraid. In fact, she confessed that with her current boss Mark Zuckerberg, she said “I negotiated hard” and followed it with “a nervous night wondering if I had blown it.”

photo of Ritika Trikha

Ritika Trikha

Ritika Trikha is passionate about scoping out top-notch job advice in the career-sphere to help you find a job you love. Ritika has 99 problems but an unhappy career isn’t one! She’s a writer and an optimist (and Jay Z’s No. 1 fan). When Ritika’s not writing stellar advice articles, she’s obsessing over social media. Connect with her via CareerBliss Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+! Contact Ritika at ritika.trikha@careerbliss.com.

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