Leaving the Comfort Zone: Salary Negotiation Tips for Women in Tech

by Sandra Petrova

8 min read

In January 2018, the world turned its ears to the controversy over the pay gap between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for their role in the movie “All the Money in the World”. The actress was devastated to learn that her male colleague received $1.5 million for reshoots of the film, while she received $80 per day.

This was a crucial moment in history when people were reminded of just how egregious the gender pay gap can be.

Even females in the tech sector are “getting Wahlberged”! Adeva found that the medium Silicon Valley male makes 61% more than the median Silicon Valley female. Women make an average of $56,120, while men make an average of $90,353. A study by Hired confirmed this and found that 63% of the time, men receive a higher salary than women for the same position and at the same company.

Everything points to the unflattering truth that men have a special treatment when it comes to negotiating the unwritten rules of compensation. Hollywood ignited the bitterness among any female worker who has learned that her male co-workers get paid more because they negotiated and she was too uncomfortable to stand up for herself.

women in tech working together

Why are Women Less Likely to Negotiate?

A survey from Glassdoor discovered that 68% of women don’t negotiate pay, compared to 52% of men. Moreover, men who negotiated were three times more successful than women. Nearly 15% of U.S. male employees reported that their salary negotiations resulted in more money compared to 4% of female workers.

What seems to be preventing women from negotiating is their hesitation to do so when they’re not clear that they’re able to negotiate. A research by Hannah Riley Bowles, senior lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, showed that men are more willing to negotiate a salary and better understand the social conventions for bargaining.

Another reason why women don’t negotiate is that they get penalized for it more often than their male counterparts. They’re more likely to receive backlash for negotiating which enhances women’s hesitation to speak up.
Undervaluing their accomplishments is another reason for women being afraid to negotiate. Fifty percent of the women in tech said they frequently experience imposter syndrome, and 34% said they sometimes do. High-achieving women often doubt their own abilities, resulting in their unfair treatment in the technology sector.

The truth is that negotiation is key to bridging the wage gap for women in STEM. Unless all women come together and fearlessly negotiate their job offer, they will have to keep on settling for lower compensation agreements and starting salaries.

job interview

How to Negotiate Your Salary in the Tech Sector Like a Boss

Research the Job and the Employer

A great way of determining whether you can negotiate your job offer or how high you can go is to conduct a research on the job and the employer. Sites like Glassdoor and Payscale can help in your research and find the information you're seeking.

If you have an acquaintance at the company you’re interviewing for, ask for their insight into the company's compensation policies. When you go into a salary negotiation meeting, you can use this information as leverage.

Learn Your Market Value

Before you negotiate your salary, do your homework first. Try to find out how much people in your field are making, especially men. Gather this information by talking to recruiters and also with other men. You can also use online salary calculators and surveys like Payscale.com, Salary.com, Check-a-Salary, and Indeed Salary Search to learn your value. Don’t hesitate to consult your professional organization to ask about salary surveys conducted in your field.

Use the information you’ll gather to compare your salary to that of peers with similar skills and experience. Take the time to research what is a good salary for someone with your career credentials and don’t settle for less.

Knowing your market value is a useful defensive mechanism if you come across unfair accusations. You’ll come in prepared with a bargaining range and a confident attitude.

Learn Your Market Value but KNOW Your Worth

Self-doubt holds women back, especially in technology, where women are underrepresented. If you’re a woman software engineer or a woman programmer, at some point in your life, you probably have thought to yourself “I’m not smart for this job”, “I’m not techy enough”, or “I’m a phony”.

ImpostHER is a movement by women in tech who tell their stories to help each other overcome impostor syndrome.

They asked women how they overcame their imposter syndrome and this is what two of them said:

“I found a mentor who supported me and pushed me beyond what I was comfortable with. Since then, I’ve surrounded myself with people I admired and who motivated me to be a better version of myself. I also did a lot of internal reflection to find out why I felt so uncomfortable and tried to really know myself.” - Christine Williams.

“Women feel the imposter syndrome more profoundly than men. Especially if you look a little bit different or come from a different background. It’s about knowing that everybody has a place in this industry, everybody has a place to do great work, and we should strive to create supportive environments. I no longer wait for somebody else’s credibility, I can’t keep on waiting for someone to tell me I’m a great developer. I know I am. So just keep going and keep building things!”- Jessica Garson.

Join a Salary Negotiation Training Program

These programs provide women with the tools they need to overcome the negative impacts of wage inequality. They strive to educate participants to recognize the gender wage gap and giving them the tools they need to be successful.

Programs like Just Ask!’ and American Association of University Women (AAUW) regularly organize salary negotiation workshops, empowering women to put their strongest foot forward, whether they are starting out with their first job or seeking a transition into a new one. Women are trained to expertly negotiate their own salary and benefits. The training serves as a multipronged approach in the fight for equal pay, which also includes advocacy and in-depth research.

“Now more than ever, we as a community must prioritize empowering our young women, both entering and in the midst of their careers, to effectively negotiate the salary and benefits they deserve. These workshops are one of several ways we can make important strides towards gender equity in the workforce”, said Commissioner Marjan Philhour.

Showcase Your Skill Set

Once you know what other people in your field are paid, set out to prove that you are as valuable as them, if not more. By extending and showcasing your skill set, your interviewer/HR manager will clearly see that you are a worthy asset. So when you negotiate your salary or ask for a raise, you’ll have already established why you deserve it.

Speak Up

Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Although you might find talking about money uncomfortable and you get especially weird when you’re asking for more of it, you should do your best to overcome those feelings. Keep in mind that you’re just getting the fair market value of the work you do. If you don’t ask for it, others will.

If you’re scared that you might come off as demanding or arrogant, don’t be. In fact, negotiating can help you make a stronger first impression. You'll demonstrate that you’re fully aware of what your skills are and that you’re confident in your abilities.

Remember that negotiations are not only about your salary. You should negotiate the whole compensation package. It may be more days of paid vacation, better health insurance, or more flexibility.

Use a “Relational Account”

Studies have found that certain negotiation strategies allow women to improve both their social and negotiation outcomes. One of those strategies is the strategy of relational accounts. The strategy involves asking for what you want while signaling to your negotiating counterpart that you are also taking their perspective.

First, you want to explain to your negotiating counterpart why your negotiation is legitimate. Second, you want to tell your negotiating counterpart why this is mutually beneficial. An example of a negotiation relational account is, “I’m hopeful you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important I bring to the job.” Studies have found that doing so improves both social perception and negotiation outcomes for women.

Until We Fix the System

To ask women in tech, or all women in general, to negotiate, even when this doesn’t come naturally to them, is a lot to ask for. To ask them to follow salary negotiation tips to win their case is not why they learned engineering or programming for.

Yet, the idea of waiting for the system to miraculously fix itself is a less attractive option. By incorporating these strategies into your negotiation game, you will walk over the wage gap and get to a more equitable working environment.


How can women negotiate for a fair salary in the tech industry? 

  • Women in tech should learn their market value and what men in their sector make.
  • Females in IT should overcome their imposter syndrome and realize their worth.
  • Women should not be afraid to speak up and showcase their skill sets.
  • Use salary negotiation tips and strategies towards your advantage.
Sandra Petrova
Sandra Petrova
Senior Content Editor

Sandra is a Senior Content Editor, particularly interested in the future of work. Her most valuable talent is searching under every rock to discover valuable information and incorporate it into well-written and insightful posts. When she's not typing in Google Docs, you can find her reading a fantasy novel, binging on Netflix, or watering her plants.

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