Salary negotiations can be a daunting and stressful process, especially for Black women. You want to get the salary you deserve, but you don’t want to appear pushy and greedy. Racism and sexism are unfortunate realities at the bargaining table.
Black women — it’s time to put the butterflies aside. Negotiating compensation can be one of the most important tools to help us get closer to closing the pay gap.
The numbers are sobering. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by white men and at the current rate, Black women’s earnings won’t be equal to white men until 2130, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
It’s time for Black women to take control of their financial futures. Four career coaches shared with DiversityInc the eight mistakes Black women should avoid when negotiating compensation.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
It wasn’t until the middle of Donnella Tilery’s digital publishing career that she realized she was cheating herself by not negotiating.
“I was trying to be seen as softer or friendlier – assertive but not aggressive,” says the founder of Careers with Donnella, a resume and career coaching company for professionals.
But for Black job applicants, overcoming the fear of salary negotiation may be more than mind over matter.
A 2018 study from the Journal of Applied Psychology found that Blacks are expected to negotiate less than whites and are punished with lower salaries if they do negotiate. The findings indicate this is especially true if the job applicant is facing a hiring manager with racial biases.
Tilery says the results of the study shouldn’t keep Black women from demanding what they are worth.
“I had to accept that, yes, people are biased and it’s not my fault,” she says. “But if I fight enough and to the best of my ability, at least I could sleep at night. The bias is their problem. I know my abilities and I can take this as an experience, not a fatality.”
2. Don’t Undervalue Yourself
Black women should recognize the value they bring to the table and base their salary expectations on the current market rate for the job they are seeking, not what they are currently earning, says Jacqueline Twillie, the president of ZeroGap.co, a training and development firm that focuses on leadership courses for women who work in male-dominated industries.
“The other part of knowing your worth is understanding what current legislation protects Black women from underselling themselves,” she says.
Twillie is encouraged by pay transparency laws in states such as California which have banned employers from asking candidates about their current or past salaries. The law also requires that companies provide a salary range for jobs if asked by applicants.
“Once you know what everyone is making, you are able to advocate for yourself and companies are typically going to be more fair upfront,” she says.
3. Don’t Go It Alone
Salary negotiations can be difficult, especially for women of color, says Ariane Hunter, speaker, author and founder of My Mentors Circle, an organization that helps women advance their careers with mentorship.
Hunter advises Black women to lean on mentors and coaches for encouragement and insight into the salary negotiation process. She says Black women can also benefit from having conversations with people in their networks.
“For someone who is just entering a new field or making a career change, they should network with other people that are in the field,” she says. “Asking that question — what are the expectations for salary for someone just starting out in this role?”
Twillie says Black women can then pay it forward by helping to guide the next generation of Black women through handling salary negotiations.
“We should start teaching our younger Black women sooner,” she says. “If we are mentoring someone in high school or college, that has to be a critical part of our conversations.”
4. Don’t Get Too Comfortable
Keeping up with the latest developments in your field can help put you in a better position to negotiate a higher salary.
“If you do need to upskill – take a new course or take on a new professional development endeavor that would help you build up your credentials and your value in the workplace,” says Hunter.
Before going to the negotiating table, it’s also important to stay informed on the average salaries in your industry. Twillie notes that many Black women that graduated from college and then went into the professional world may be earning more than their family members previously did, but may not be making the market rate.
“You want to be tuned into your social networks, not just social media, but understanding what your white male colleagues are being paid,” she says.
5. Don’t Negotiate Against Yourself
Let’s say you’re applying for a job and the salary is presented in a $30,000 range. Hunter says don’t negotiate against yourself. Always ask for more.
“If you have a number in mind, pad it a little bit more,” she says. “Add 10%, 20% onto that number, because you can always negotiate from there.”
Tilery says she’s found that many Black women lowball themselves.
“Why not go for the higher end? Why do we go to the lower end, even if it’s a new opportunity for us?” she asks.
6. Don’t Focus on Just the Salary
While base pay is important, salary isn’t the only thing job seekers can negotiate with employers, says Angelina Darrisaw, founder and CEO of C-Suite Coach, a professional development and coaching firm.
“Whether that results in higher base pay, more flexibility, more upside through a bonus model or the ability to freelance externally, speak up about your needs and find a middle ground with your employer to meet you in a place that works for you,” she says.
According to Twillie, your career goals should also be a deciding factor.
“Decide where you want to be in the long run in terms of your career trajectory,” she says. “What is going to give you the best exposure to opportunities that align with your long-term career aspirations and financial goals?”
7. Don’t Accept the First Offer
Tilery admits that early in her career, she accepted any offer she was presented with because she didn’t want to rock the boat.
“We do not ask for the full salary that we deserve and we’re not doing the research,” she says. “We just take what we are given for a job.”
Job websites like Glassdoor or PayScale are good sources to help you determine the average salary for people in similar roles, but you may want to cross-reference it with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or other sources that can provide local breakdowns.
“Get more comfortable speaking about numbers,” says Darrisaw. “Ask your peers what they earn. Constantly interview to assess your marketplace value. Try a combination of tactics — but never accept the first offer.”
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away
Best-case scenario? You end up with your desired salary.
Worst-case scenario? Your offer is rejected or the employer counters with an offer that isn’t what you want.
Job seekers shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate for a better package.
“It’s ok to ask for more money,” Tilery says. “The answer is no because you never asked.”
But what if you ask and the answer is no? If you have followed all of the negotiation tips and the employer still doesn’t want to budge on salary, don’t be discouraged. Hunter says you might be able to find a job that is a better fit.
“We are in a job seeker’s market and it is a great time to explore other opportunities that are going to give you what you want,” she says.