Assistant professor, Harvard Business School
You’re a woman. You’ve been offered your dream job or promotion. The pay gap still favors men. Should you “lean in” and negotiate a higher salary?
In some cases, absolutely. Negotiations are an important tool for improving your salary. But in some cases, leaning in will hurt you, as negotiations can backfire. Backlash may even follow.
Therefore, it’s best to assess your options based on the scenario. Don’t blindly choose to always negotiate, but also don’t choose to never do so. Instead, consider the three following steps:
1. Think about what you bring to the table
As best you can, put a price on your skills. Did you make your previous company more productive? Did you bring in more revenue? If you can’t put a dollar value on your work, think about it in other ways, such as your success in leading a team with a new strategy. What is the typical salary range for jobs like yours at your company? How does this compare to the industry?
2. Assess the negotiation opportunity
Ask yourself the following questions: Are you being offered less than what you bring to the table? Is there room to negotiate for a higher salary? Do you have another job offer? Does the new opportunity offer a higher salary or better benefits? Have you sharpened your negotiation skills and tactics?
3. Make the decision
If after careful consideration you choose to skip this particular negotiation opportunity, that decision may be wise. Always negotiating may not benefit you. If you do believe the negotiation opportunity works in your favor, though, give it a try. And trust your instinct: Our research shows that women have a good sense about when and when not to negotiate. It is not that some women always negotiate while others always avoid it; instead, women in our study carefully chose when to negotiate.
If you are not sure about what to do, keep researching, get help from a career service or talk to a human resources officer who likely knows more about the company’s bigger picture. In short, be as informed as possible, learn from your experiences and trust yourself. Chances are your instincts are much better than a blanket policy to always or never negotiate.