The new employment law in Massachusetts made it illegal for employers to ask a candidate about past salary history.

This is great news for making strides in gender pay equality, which was one of the goals of the legislation. It marked a significant step in the right direction. However, law is only one piece of the puzzle. The negotiation skills gap between men and women continues to be a part of the wage gap problem. [TWEET]

One may wonder what causes this gap. Is it lack of confidence or lack of negotiation training? Why do women routinely leave money on the table, and is there anything they can do to negotiate more effectively?

The good news is that when it comes to women and negotiation, women can be highly effective negotiators, and they don’t have to copy a male approach to accomplish that. Many negotiating tools actually come easier to women than to men! For example, women tend to smile more. Far from lowering your persuasiveness, a smile during negotiations can convey the message that you are in control, relaxed and confident. Women are also good at keeping the conversation from becoming adversarial, which can often move it forward effectively.

Unfortunately, what holds women back is the “social cost” of negotiating – or the negative social impact that negotiation is perceived to have on women. In other words, women read the environment and get a sense that self-advocating can create relationship penalties for them. The good news is that women can overcome this obstacle. By re-framing negotiating and learning a few key skills, you can be on your way to better pay and job opportunities! Here are salary negotiations tips and the roadmap you need.

1. Understand the cost of NOT negotiating.

Not negotiating can cost you as much as half a million dollars over your professional life, says Linda Babcock who is a Carnegie Mellon University economics professor. According to her research on women and negotiation, only 12 percent of women negotiate salary compared to 52 percent of men.

One may wonder what causes this dynamic. Is it lack of confidence or lack of socialization to the concept of negotiating? Why do women leave this much money on the table?

The good news is that there are ways women can overcome this.

2. Focus on the benefit to the company.

Women are often better at negotiating for others than they are at representing their own interests. Instead of lamenting this trend, why not put it to work for you?

The first salary negotiation tip is to reframe the conversation as you representing the interests of the company. If you are unable to negotiate now, how can the employer expect you to advocate for the company, employees who will report up to you, and better solutions for the customers? If you enter the conversation with a mindset of working to find a mutual win, you have a better chance of emerging with better compensation and intact relationships.  

3. Come in prepared.

The research you do before you enter salary negotiations can make a difference on the outcomes. I recommend using salary data from,, and Glassdoor to set an accurate baseline.

In addition to researching industry norms online, you may consider talking to others in the field to better understand value drivers, challenges and precedent. By doing this basic investigative work up front, you ground your argument in solid facts – not just a vague sense that you deserve or need better pay.

4. Have reasonable expectations.

No, I do not mean that you should lower your expectations. Instead, combine your industry research with performance expectations and document your past achievements. When targets are clear and accomplishments are tracked, it is much easier to make the argument for a raise – even if the company policy is “cost of living adjustments only across the board.”

5. Watch your tone.

Have you ever looked at a recording of yourself negotiating? If not, invest an hour of your time into staging and taping a negotiation with a friend. All you need is a quiet space, a tripod and your smartphone! The recording can teach you a lot about habits that may be costing you significant money.

Here are a few specific things to watch for. Many women end sentences in an upturned tone which makes them sound more like questions than affirmative statements. Another common mistake is overusing “I think” and “maybe.” Those habits can make you come across as unsure.  

The good news is that simple changes in language can set you up for a win. So, if you observe yourself falling into ending your sentences like questions, work on turning them back into confident statements. Instead of using “maybe,” consider a more assertive “let’s try this going forward.”

6. Use silence as a strategic tool.

What is the longest you have ever been silent in a negotiation after asking a question or making a statement? If your answer is a minute or longer, you have a rare gift. Silence is uncomfortable for many of us. We don’t like it when the other party goes quiet and rush to fill the silence with our own voice. As a result, most people will talk themselves into a corner and say things that weaken their position.  

If you want to be a powerful negotiator, our best salary negotiation tip is that silence is your friend. If your employer goes silent, he or she is processing what you have just said. Allow that to happen and don’t feel the need to fill the silence.

7. Listen.

The stereotype of a good negotiator is someone who is loud and boisterous. In reality, you don’t have to dominate the conversation to be an effective negotiator. Listening allows you to really hear what the other party wants, which puts you in a position to find a resolution that works for both sides.

8. Practice.

What holds many women back from negotiating important things like salary and promotions is a perception that they are not good at negotiating. The reality is that you don’t have to be great at it; you just have to start somewhere and get better. Like riding a bike and swimming, negotiating is a learned skill, and it can get better with practice.

Give yourself permission to start small. Try returning a purchase to the store despite a lost receipt or an expired 30-day return window. Call your cable company for a reduction in your monthly bill. Ask for an upgrade on your next flight or rental car. If your basic skills need a tune-up, consider digging into additional resources: there are dozens of books and podcasts on the subject, many tailored specifically to women.

In summary, remember that women can be great negotiators. Be sure to come in prepared, play to your strengths, and do your best to keep the conversation focused on finding the optimal solution. It is rare that negotiations result in both sides getting exactly what they want, but through a thoughtful conversation you can certainly move closer to that marker.

Want to see how your resume stacks up? Try out our free critique today!

Related Articles: