Women, lean in! Women, negotiate! Women, step up to the plate! Women ask for what you want! The worst they could say is "no"! Great advice, except for when it's the worst advice; for one female academic, the worst they could — and did — say was "actually, never mind. We don't want to hire you now that we know what you want."
The woman, known only as "W" on the higher education blogs writing about the incident, was offered a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts school in upstate New York called Nazareth College. She responded to the offer by asking for what the blog Philosophy Smoker calls "the usual deal-sweeteners." Here's the email she wrote the selection committee:
As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier[:]
1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.
2) An official semester of maternity leave.
3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.
4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.
5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc."
She ended the email by saying "I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.
Thank you for your email. The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.
Thank you very much for your interest in Nazareth College. We wish you the best in finding a suitable position.
Some commenters on the Philosophy Smoker post were dismissive of what happened to W, pointing out that it's important to "know the culture" of the institution to which you're applying before accepting a job and trying to negotiate terms. But isn't that, uh, what an interview process is for? To make sure that the institute and a candidate are a good fit for each other? Also, the school could have just said "No, sorry. We can't give you any of those things, but we still want you to work here on our terms." Now, W could feasibly argue that her offer was rescinded because she asked for maternity leave, and, as any fan of House of Cards (or employment law) knows, that sort of accusation isn't taken lightly.
Fuck, man. Horror stories like this are why it's so hard for women to ask for raises. It's why women don't negotiate salaries for their first job while their male coworkers do, and it's why over a career, women's earnings suffer massively. We're behind the 8-ball from the start, and it's in part because we're afraid something like this might happen to us. Former Bank of America executive Sallie Krawcheck (who, full disclosure, was something like my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss when I worked at Merrill Lynch two and a half years ago) puts it this way:
...if a woman were to earn at parity with a man, that represents a return of 30% per annum on her current salary….which compounds.(!) One can't get that return on government bonds (now yielding in the low single-digit percents) or in the stock market on a consistent basis (even in the bull market since the crash, the United States market has returned less than half of that annually).
The best investment a woman can make, Krawcheck argues, is the one she makes when she asks for a raise.
All is better than some, but some is better than none. And fear of being handed a big pile of nothing like W is a big factor, for some women in choosing to take what they're given rather than asking for more and losing everything.
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