Employers Can Help Significantly Narrow the Gender Gap With One Simple Word: 'Negotiable'

Illustration for article titled Employers Can Help Significantly Narrow the Gender Gap With One Simple Word: 'Negotiable'

I was so excited when I got my first full-time job after college — imagine, someone actually thought I was worth employing in a recession! — that I literally and emphatically said "YES" before my new boss could get out the "K" that came after the two-digit number he proposed for my salary. I never would've dreamed of negotiating a pay raise; no one ever taught me any guidelines for how that discussion should go. Forget face-to-face negotiation strategy; most of my 20-something female friends feel uncomfortable just writing down an "ideal salary" on a job application form in fear they'll scare off prospective employers by putting a number that's too high or even too low.


So I'm excited about the results of this new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research because they seem way more actionable than the conclusions of most studies on why women, on average, still get paid 72 percent less than men: researchers found that women are more likely to negotiate their salaries if the salary is specifically described as "negotiable." It's that simple!

The paper, called "Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations?" looked into how men and women responded to job advertisements and subsequent interviews for an administrative assistant position. Researchers found:

  • Women are way more likely to negotiate if an employer straight-out says the wages are negotiable, while men will try and raise their salary even if an employer doesn't say they can do so. From The Atlantic:

    In the study, men negotiated more often when they were told only this: "The position pays $17.6 an hour." Whereas women were more likely to negotiate when they were told this: "The position pays $17.6 per hour. But the applicant can negotiate a higher wage," OR "The position pays $17.6 per hour/ negotiable." So, just a few words made a noticeable difference in whether or not women would negotiate: "the applicant can negotiate," or even more simply, "negotiable."

    Men are also more likely to apply for a job where the salary is not explicitly negotiable.

    Women, on the other hand, are less likely to negotiate face to face.

    Interestingly, results varied from city to city: men were more likely to negotiate in Washington, DC, Denver, Los Angeles, and Portland, while women were more likely to negotiate in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, and San Diego.

The study concluded that employers could successfully reduce the gender gap in job applications by approximately 45% (!!!!!!) just by adding the word "negotiable" in salary discussions. Of course, bosses might not be too psyched about the idea of encouraging job applicants to ask for more money — but if they claim to care about hiring and retaining more women and are willing to negotiate with male applicants, it would be disingenuous for them not to start putting this information to use ASAP.

The Word That Gets Women Negotiating Their Salaries: 'Negotiate' [The Atlantic]

Image via Rob Marmion/Shutterstock.



It would be great is employers described their salaries as negotiable, but I suspect that males will still end up negotiating higher salaries because they are just more comfortable doing it. I think college career development offices as well as womens' professional societies need to be more active in teaching women how to do these negotiations through roleplaying and practice, because they matter — your future raises are usually governed by a percentage of your current salary and the gaps will just get bigger and bigger as your career progresses. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but like any skill you learn how to do it by practice. I didn't negotiate my salary at all when I got my job, but all my male colleagues did. I plan on negotiating the shit out of my retirement package.