Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Women and Work

One of my best friends from grad school graduated a semester before me, and spent six months flying around the country for job interviews.  Finally, she accepted a position a cummutable distance from home and I was just thrilled that she didn't have to move. Then she said something that I found very strange, "They offered me $xx, so I'm going to call them back within a week and ask for about $xx more plus train fare."

"You can do that?" I asked.

"The amount of money I make it this job will determine my salary for the rest of my career," she told me, "Every job I have after this one will look at how much I was paid here as a starting off point.  I have to negotiate.  Of course they're going to start out with a lower figure, but I'm worth more."

This completely threw me for a loop, and I chalked it up to the fact that she's a law librarian and lawyers are used to negotiating.  I honestly felt like the whole negotiating for a salary thing was a bit rude.  You should be thrilled that such a good job wants you and take what they offer or they might rescind the offer, was my thinking.  Certainly other people don't have the option of negotiating salary.  That's something that people on Wall Street do, or people who have an impressive resume that are being wooed by a competitor.

I work in a profession that is about 90% women, but probably 70% of the people in positions of power are men (rough estimates based on observation).  My friends and I complain about male librarians and how pushy and self-promoting they are, but maybe that's why they always seem to get ahead.  On the other side of that argument, most of the female librarians I've spoken to don't want to be library directors, and the men do.  So can we really get indignant that the men are taking jobs we'd rather not have?

I was reading an article the other day about Mika Brzezinski, who was a co-host on MSNBC's Morning Joe.  She recounted that when she started working at that show, she had been hired as a contract worker making a menial salary and paying for her own hair, make-up and wardrobe.  Her salary was also only seven percent of what her co-host was making, and she just accepted it for years.  Finally, when it came time to actually negotiate, she alternated between playing the victim, and playing hardball by swearing and acting macho.  Neither worked, people thought she was crazy, and she finally threatened to quit and got a contract negotiation.

It really shouldn't be like that, but the only times I've ever negotiated for raises, I've had to threaten to quit as well.  In high school I worked at a gas station, and started a rumor that I was unhappy and looking for a new job.  When my boss approached me about it, I told him that I was looking around, and he offered me $.85 more per hour.  When I quit working at the television station, I was first offered a raise, which I refused (they gave it to me anyway), then offered a producer position.  I had been there five years, and it wasn't until I threatened to leave that they realized my value.

This is a dangerous game though.  I actually did leave my television job because I was moving across country for grad school, but if I had had a clue that they would move me into the newsroom if I threatened to quit, I would have done it two years earlier.  But maybe two years earlier I wouldn't have been as valuable, and threatening to quit would have left me either looking like an alarmist flake, or out of a job.  I really don't know how to play the game, but I think it's something that we all need to start thinking about.

Not to sound like a commercial, but the reason I read the article about Mika (not typing out her last name again) is because she wrote a book about negotiating, which I'm certainly going to read.  This is something that I truly never really thought about.  The times I actually did negotiate successfully, were times I really did plan to quit, not because I'm particularly savvy.  In this economy, where those of us with jobs should be glad to have them, is there room for negotiation?


  1. I didn't negotiate for my current salary because it pays a heck of a lot higher than most entry-level library jobs pay (if you want to know, the money is in special libraries). I do, however, plan to negotiate from here on out. The next job I take will have to top my current salary or I won't take it. It's not rude or unprofessional, it's just good business. If I'm worth x amount of money now, then a new company needs to realize that otherwise why would I want to work for them?

  2. See, it's so logical when you say it like that.
    I suppose at this point in my career, I'm still struggling to figure out what I bring to the table besides wide-eyed optimism, and I am thrilled when I even get an interview. Once I've been around the block a few times, I'll feel a lot more comfortable with the notion of haggling...hopefully.