Four years ago, Vanessa Menchaca-Wachtmeister was living in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and making a salary equivalent to just $29,000. But in just two years, she managed to double it. And now she wants other women to know how.
If you want to boost your salary, Menchaca-Wachtmeister, a Latina personal finance expert and travel tech professional, has a suggestion for you: negotiate like a white man.
“The real game-changer was seeing through the female feeling that I’m not worthy of my money, and going hard with my negotiations,” Menchaca-Wachtmeister said last week during a Latina Women on FIRE event hosted by NextAdvisor. “I portrayed it in my head like this: how would a straight white male who owns the world take this challenge on?”
In just about every industry across locations and job positions, men often earn more than women. Women in the U.S. take home a mere $0.82 on average for every dollar earned by men, according to the American Association of University Women, a non-profit group working to advance gender equality. That gap is even wider for Latinas, Black women, and Native American women.
But the debate about equal pay is nothing new. It’s been ongoing for decades, with the first official Equal Pay Day taking place in 1996 — the day that symbolizes when women’s salaries finally catch up to their male counterparts’ salaries from the previous year.
This year’s Equal Pay Day is today, March 24. So if a woman and her male colleague both started working the same job on January 1, 2020, she would have to work until today to make as much as he did in the previous year.
There has been little progress in the last decade in narrowing the gender pay gap. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research says between 2008 and 2017, the gender pay gap only decreased by 2 percentage points. Between 2018 and 2019, the gap didn’t shrink at all, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
But you don’t have to sit idly by waiting for change to happen. You can aim for the same salary boost Menchaca-Wachtmeister achieved by following the advice below — making sure not only that you are getting the compensation you deserve, but affect positively those who will come after you.
Women face unique challenges when negotiating for higher pay, but that doesn’t mean they should avoid negotiations. Raquel Cid, a career coach who has had hundreds of clients hired by companies such as Amazon, Disney, and Facebook, says most companies expect you to negotiate.
“You should have two to three numbers in mind. If you’ve done your research, you’re going to be in a better position to negotiate,” says Cid. “It’s not a good idea to base your number off your previous salary, because maybe you were being underpaid.”
During a negotiation, Cid suggests not naming a specific salary figure first, even if the employer asks. Instead, ask the recruiter what their allotted budget is for the position and negotiate from there. “Whoever says the first number loses,” says Cid.
If the recruiter asks you to name a number first, consider giving them a broad answer that shows you’re willing to negotiate, such as “if this is the right job for me, I’m sure we can come to an agreement on salary,” or a salary range — not a specific figure. You can say the following: “From what I know about the position, I think somewhere in the area of $XX – $XX.”
“They will give you an offer based on your experience, but more often than not, they have more in the budget. There are lots of reasons for that, but one of them is to remain competitive,” says Cid.
Know Your Worth When Negotiating
Think about what your skill set is worth and be prepared to explain why that is the appropriate or fair amount — and do not underestimate yourself.
“You want to focus on your value when you’re negotiating. Nothing personal, because the company is essentially hiring you because they want you to solve a problem,” says Cid.
Negotiating with an employer isn’t about your personal life or your social standing; it’s about business, says Cid. Tell a story that goes with the business data points to prove your value as an employee. You can do this by quantifying your accomplishments and giving concrete examples.
Be Confident and Assertive When Negotiating
Research has shown women are more hesitant than men to negotiate for higher pay because they don’t want to come across as unlikeable and demanding.
But women perceived as “agreeable” are typically compensated less, according to a 2018 study published in the Oxford Economic Papers. This catch-22 means it’s often more challenging for women to be assertive and confident, but they also need to be able to negotiate.
You should never apologize for asking for more, Cid says. If you’re in a position to negotiate, remember, you’re not asking for a personal favor. Also, practice being assertive and confident when the stakes are low. For example, you can practice negotiating with a family member or close friend on where to get takeout one night. Getting some practice in will help you when it’s time to talk about pay with your employer.
“Don’t feel bad. These are corporations — they don’t care about you,” says Menchaca-Wachtmeister. “ It doesn’t matter if I’m being aggressive or direct. It matters to me how much money I’m getting paid, so I’m going to do what’s necessary.”
Be Transparent About Your Salary
“A really big part of gaining equality when it comes to pay is sharing salary with each other,” says Cid. “If none of us know how much we’re making, it’s easy for us to be underpaid.”
You’ll want to do your research and find out what other people with your title make at the company or in the industry. Start with websites that collect salary and income information by location, such as Glassdoor and Payscale.
Doing research online is helpful for the process, but public salary information isn’t always accurate, says Cid. She strongly encourages women to talk about their salaries with friends and peers, and suggests reaching out to people via LinkedIn who work in similar positions.
“You’re not asking that person how much they make. You’re letting them know you’re exploring a career in that particular industry or role and you’re asking for their advice because they’re in a similar position,” says Cid. “People are more inclined to share salary if you’re willing to share yours first.”
If you’re unsure what to say, Cid suggests saying something along the lines of this:
“Hey [name], I’m applying to this [job] and here’s the salary that I’m targeting: [salary range]. Can you let me know if I’m off range and by how much? I want to ensure I’m being paid market value.”
Have a Backup Plan
You always want to have a plan B in case your current or potential employer shoots down your offer during the negotiation. If you know there’s no room to negotiate salary, you can try negotiating other benefits such as paid time off or remote work. Deciding ahead of time whether you want to make another counteroffer or walk away will give you an edge in negotiations.
Menchaca-Wachtmeister says her priority with her most recent salary negotiation was to move from the United Kingdom to Germany and get a pay increase, but she was willing to sacrifice the raise if it meant she could make the move with her company.
“It’s a game, and people have different priorities. Really sticking to your guns is your best lever because most people would just cower,” she says. “The confidence in knowing that you can find a new job if that’s what it takes and that you’re deserving of a job is what is going to make the difference.”
Another tip: the more job opportunities you have, the better, says Menchaca-Wachtmeister. If you can secure two competing offers, you can play them against one another.
“I think options are our best resource,” she says. “I don’t need them to like me in the negotiations because I have backups, and that’s something that I think women need to get more comfortable with.”