‘Just Ask’ isn’t Such a Simple Solution

There are a good deal of statistics out there about how and why women don’t negotiate salaries when starting a new job. For example: 


A May study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University polled nearly 600 young men and women who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010. The authors found that young men are not only out-earning young women, they’re doing so by an average of more than $5,000 per year. Male participants reported first-year job earnings averaging $33,150, while young women earned about $28,000.
Another report released in May, this one by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, indicated that new female college graduates are earning 17 percent less than their male counterparts.
The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that, among full-time workers in the population as a whole, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. 
When asking the internet what to do about this problem the most common suggestion (in my findings) was “Just ask for more! The worst they can say is ‘no’. But, it turns out that’s not really true. 
Kevin Drum has more to say about this at Mother Jones

E.J. Graff asked all the men to leave the room before she linked to this reddit piece below, but I didn’t. It’s from an HR person at a tech company explaining why women routinely get lower salary offers than men:

The reason they don’t keep up, from where I sit, is simple. Often, a woman will enter the salary negotiation phase and I’ll tell them a number will be sent to them in a couple days. Usually we start around $45k for an entry level position. 50% to 60% of the women I interview simply take this offer. It’s insane, I already know I can get authorization for more if you simply refuse. Inversely, almost 90% of the men I interview immediately ask for more upon getting the offer.

The next major mistake happens with how they ask for more. In general, the women I have negotiated with will say 45k is not enough and they need more, but not give a number. I will then usually give a nominal bump to 48k or 50k. Company policy wont let me bump more than 5k over the initial offer unless they specifically request more. On the other hand, men more frequently will come back with a number along the lines of 65k to 75k, and I will be forced to negotiate down from there. After this phase, almost all women will take the offer or move on to somewhere else, not knowing they could have gotten more if they asked.

At the end, most of the women I hire make between 45k and 50k, whereas the men make between 60k and 70k. Even more crazy, they ask for raises far less often, so the disparity only grows.

I apologize for sticking around, but there’s a reason. I’ve run into this before myself, and have always told women “Just ask! The worst that can happen is that they say no.” But that’s not actually the case. Here’s a bit of research on the subject:

Their study…found that women’s reluctance [to negotiate] was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did….”What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

So listen up, boys: there’s a reason women don’t negotiate as hard as men. Several of them, in fact. But one of these reasons is that men treat them shabbily when they do. So knock it off. Tell the women you love to negotiate the same as you would, and when they do, don’t hold it against them. OK?


I have to admit – I did not negotiate my salary for my current position. I was so tired of being unemployed and I was also pleased with the salary and benefits offer. I realize that this could have been a mistake in the long run – nonprofit models of raises and careers can be pretty broken; you often have to move out to move up and raises are based on your starting salary. But it’s unfortunate that “just asking” isn’t really the simple answer so many people want it to be. 
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