Women, confidence, and salary negotiations

Salary negotiations, what’s that?  A headline in Toronto’s Globe and Mail the other day reminded me of my own history in salary negotiations: What Young Women Need to Know About Salary Negotiations.   On the very same morning that I read this article, one of my favourite bloggers, Wynne Leon, posted are article entitled Growth Mindset, in which she talks about women’s lack of confidence in being able to do things they haven’t tried or weren’t good at many years ago, as opposed to men, who are more likely to assume they can do whatever they want, if they really want to.  Both these two articles really hit home for me.  Time for some life experience sharing from an old girl (me).

A quote in Wynne’s post sums up much of what I’ve observed over 50 years of trying to convince more young women to enter my field of computer science:

“Most women think their abilities are fixed, (Carol) Dweck told us. They’re either good at math or bad at math. The same goes for a host of other challenges that women tend to take on less often than men do: leadership, entrepreneurship, public speaking, asking for raises, financial investment, even parking the car. Many women think, in these areas, that their talents are determined, finite, and immutable. Men, says Dweck, think they can learn almost anything.”

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

The main reason that more young women continue to decide against pursuing engineering or computer science as a career choice seems to be that they’re convinced their 90% in high school math isn’t good enough for success in the program, as opposed to many of their male peers, who figure their 65% is fine, they can figure it out if they want to.  Where do these differences in levels of confidence come from?  And why??


The article about women not being good at salary negotiation really stood out for me because it pretty well defined my own history.  In my case, the main reason was that I had absolutely no idea that you would or could negotiate for your salary.  I assumed it was a take-it-or-leave it situation.  And I was happy to take it.  Until … a perceptive and considerate male superior who was offering me a new administrative role in my university said to me: “Jane, this is where you’re supposed to ask for a salary bump to go along with the stipend that comes with this position.”  Imagine!  Such a thing had never crossed my mind.  I should add that this man is one of several men who mentored me through the years.

Subsequently, over many years, I found myself in the position of hiring others to a variety of positions.  Invariably, any men being hired would expect to negotiate.  I should point out that we were a unionized shop and therefore had a defined salary ladder, but where you started on that ladder made a difference.  And even young men who were about to start their very first job seemed to know that this was an important discussion to have, whereas in always every situation the women being hired did not.  Why is that??  Is there a special school for young men that young women just don’t know about?

My final personal experience of salary negotiation came when I had the unusual experience of coming out of retirement into a senior administration position I had held previously, while things “settled down” and they searched for a new person in that role.  I knew when I went to meet with my boss-to-be that I’d be asked what I was expecting to get by way of compensation, so I was ready.  After all, I was an old hand at this by now, right?  I took the amount I was making in the same job 5 years previously, gave the generous bump of 4% per year to it, which was far more than any of the union bumps during that time, and, when asked, presented the head honcho with my figure.  His reply: “Is that all?!”  Wow, I hadn’t really figured anything out, had I?  It turns out that some men had even negotiated for expanded office space, fancier furniture, and – would you believe it – their own bathroom.  What the …?!  None of this impresses me, like many things in this world, but there you go.

Some of the points in the Globe and Mail article that particularly interested with me were:

Ms. Varalli says a common misconception around salary gaps is that women “don’t negotiate.” But the reality is not so straightforward.
“Women are socialized from a very young age that they should focus less on their interests and more on the interests of others and needs of others,” she says.

Dr. Dart points out that girls often get messages growing up that can stand in the way of negotiating a higher salary. “Part of the upbringing is that you [shouldn’t be] too ‘pushy,’ and you want to be nice,” she says.

Women aren’t the only ones affected by gendered socialization norms, Ms. Varalli adds.

“Everyone is raised in a system that tends to punish women and reward men for asking for more,” she says. “There are so many negative labels that get attached to women for behaving in a way that men are ‘supposed’ to.”

This observation is backed by data; a 2021 study conducted by researchers from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and Harvard Business School found that the higher in career rank a woman gets, the more likely she is to face backlash for assertively negotiating her salary.

The study found that women consistently faced backlash to empowered negotiating, even though they were practicing leadership styles considered “advantageous.”

So, in other words, we women can’t win!  The question I ask myself is, how do men figure this out from the get-go?  Is it all societal nurturing?  Is some of it nature as opposed to nurture?  I can’t answer that.  But I am forever grateful to the several men throughout my work life – and my husband – who have proactively encouraged me to be a player in the game.  I’m clearly still a work in progress, but it’s time – past time – for younger women to be bolstered with self-confidence … and that all-important salary negotiation know-how.


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30 Responses to Women, confidence, and salary negotiations

  1. debscarey says:

    So very true Jane. I’ve always been fortunate in being well compensated for what I do. It doesn’t start out that way, when I change job I often take a drop as new employers always believe I’m overpaid. But they quickly worked out that I’m worth it. Nevertheless, I’m not a negotiator. If I wasn’t valued, I’d leave and go somewhere else. At my age, that’s not quite so easy which is why I’m working on being my own boss.

    A good friend of mine discovered she was being paid considerably less than her male counterpart. When confronting her boss, he admitted that not only was she paid less, she worked harder and better. He gave her a small uplift in salary and promised her an assistant. When the assistant didn’t materialise, she gave him one more chance to equalise the situation – and he laughed. So she resigned on the spot, then got a job elsewhere earning what her male counterpart was paid. She decided against taking him to court, because she wasn’t prepared to either waste her time or risk her reputation. And being 10 years younger than me, she’s still very employable. But the sheer gall of her boss…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. AP2 says:

    Very interesting post Jane – having that awareness is clearly very important. As for whether it’s a nature/nurture thing – I believe it’s a combination. I suspect women are more willing to negotiate on other people’s behalf – sacrifice themselves for others (perhaps that’s a maternal thing) whereas men are more geared towards survival/negotiating of their own behalf. They are predisposed to think about themselves/be more selfish. Certainly society’s expectations don’t help! Thanks for sharing Jane/making me think. Wishing you well 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for adding these insights, AP2. I think you’re right, I think it’s a combination. But I also think it’s something we have to work to overcome. Glad to make such a natural thinker think some more! Keep negotiating skills in mind as you consider your next phase of life!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Christie Hawkes says:

    Hello Jane. I found your blog through a comment you left on Debs Despatches. It’s nice to “meet” you. Thank you for an intriguing post. I recently retired and am hopefully finished with salary negotiations and such. I managed to find my way through a successful career, but boy, do I wish I had learned some of these skills earlier on. Also, I highly recommend Carol Dweck’s book on growth mindset. There is a lot of valuable information there for people of all ages, genders, and life circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. barryh says:

    Interesting article, Jane. It’s not just women though. I was tempted to reply ‘you mean I could have asked for more money every year throughout my career? How well off I’d be now!’ Difficult for those of us where money is not a major motivator.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Welcome to our world, Barry! I think you’ve identified an important ingredient over and above self-confidence and prior knowledge. When money’s not your #1 consideration (say, above job satisfaction, etc), negotiating for more as a matter of course isn’t front of mind. And … yes, you could have asked for more!


  5. Yup, both here and there. Sigh. Heartening to read that there have been some kind, generous, and fair-minded men to help you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ShiraDest says:

    When I was a s/w engineer in the 90s, people kept telling me that I needed to negotiate my salary better, but there were definitely other issues involved…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Margiran says:

    Working as a nurse and counsellor for local public services for the majority of my working years meant unionised salaries and relatively low pay. Husband, in the private sector, earned 4 times more than I did ( 4 times!! ) – yes he was good at his job but not that much better 😏 Hence my wage was always ‘pin money’ aka top up money, which made our lives more comfortable. I think this was one of the reasons women had a hard time of it regarding being valued and even being thought of as worth ‘equal’ pay … after all it was only top-up money and really ‘we’ should be at home looking after the children and the house!!!! 🙄
    It’s widely realised that women were undervalued more than men, even more so when in manual jobs and with few qualifications. When people talk about money not being important it usually means there is sufficient going in to the household.
    Improvements have happened alongside more women having to go out to work, whether they want to or not.
    Is the confidence issue a case of women questioning their own worth, I wonder? We can be such a grateful gender! I’m glad to see we are learning though and it’s evident our daughters and granddaughters are more confident. Upwards and onwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Onwards and upwards is about it. But we need to know the rules of the game if we’re to play it well for ourselves as well as for the “team” we choose. Re public sector vs private sector, in our capitalist-driven world it is a fair question indeed as to how well we do or don’t value the public services on which our societies rely: education, childcare, healthcare, social services, LTC workers, etc. It sure makes a statement as to where each society places its values.


  8. Rose says:

    Great article! Apologies for going off the salary negotiation topic, but I’ve also found this true in the medical community. I realized a long time ago how differently my husband and I are treated at the doctor’s office. I don’t know how to reprogram myself to go in with confident expectations, as my husband does naturally. How can women train ourselves to behave with that kind of confidence? How do men figure out confidence so early? Why is it more difficult for women to do?


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Gosh, no apologies necessary, Rose. This is a really important question. I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture. It appears that women typically want to be liked rather than to take charge, possibly part of the mothering role. That’s nature. But confidence also comes from nurture, from having been treated with respect from the time we were young, having absorbed the message that our voice counts. My guess is that not having this from an early age makes it difficult to feel confident. Rose, you have everything to be confident about!!!


  9. Wynne Leon says:

    What a great post, Jane! Thank you so much for the generous shout-out!

    As always, you combine your personal knowledge with such interesting data to provide such good perspective on this topic. All I can do is second all you’ve said – from the early days of being an EE to negotiating my own salary and fees. I’m sure I’ve left so much on the table but I’m also so grateful that I have enough. That peace of mind is priceless to me so I don’t think much about it for myself even though I coach young women to ask for more. A little hypocritical, I know… 🙂

    Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Wynne. Two comments I received on FB wrt this post are worth sharing.
      1. A friend of mine of your generation shares your view personally but also coaches young women to negotiate. She reminds them that when they don’t they are contributing to the continuing wage disparity between men and women.
      2. Another FB friend shared that a book called “Women Don’t Ask” pointed out that a woman (or man) can lose as much as $1M over the course of their work life by not negotiating their starting salary.

      We can be good at being our own worst enemy. We have to know the rules of the game, but then it’s up to us to play the game well! Good for thought. 😊


  10. I’m just catching up with my reading here after a three-week absence and am glad your post is one of the first I’ve read. You make excellent points, Jane (illustrated with great cartoons). Inequity and double standards still exist. As a woman and person of color, I learned I had to fight for what I deserved — and walk away if I didn’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jean says:

    One of the things I disliked intensely was negotiating salary for private sector jobs which I had several. No salary given on job ad. I was a manager for a national role.. I think I wasn’t compensated same…this was a major global firm. Alot of salaries in public sector are totally open info., which I like knowing the range at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I know what you mean, Jean. I had hoped that lack of transparency (the fashionable word for honesty and openness these days) was waning in the age of social media, where it’s hard to keep anything secret. But where there’s a will there’s a way. Sigh.


  12. I’m afraid I am a work in progress too. Because I often worked in a union environment, I don’t recall having to negotiate my salary. And when I did have the opportunity with another job, I didn’t use it to full advantage. I’m definitely from the ‘women are encouraged to serve others and not bitch and complain about it” especially when it comes to money. And the unpaid labour I’ve done, and am still doing, over the years would amount to well into the six-figure range.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Roy McCarthy says:

    Funny, the subject of salary differentials never came up once over my working life. On a personal level I’ve always accepted what I’ve been offered, thinking it fair. I never asked for a raise either. Salaries just didn’t come up in conversations with my co-workers. However, I’ve always thought that everyone’s salaries should be made public but I’ve invariably been greeted with gasps of horror at the very notion, by both employees and employer.

    Liked by 1 person

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