The art of salary negotiation for designers, women and more

The art of salary negotiation for designers, women and more

I’ve been on the offering end of 50+ jobs for over 14 years as a hiring manager in design firms, startups, and large tech companies. Over the years, I noticed that almost all the women accepted their first offer while men would tend to negotiate for more money about 2/3 of the time. These are highly unscientific data points and they also inspired me to spend more time trying to change the narrative. I’ve informally mentored numerous women around salary negotiation to try to demystify the taboo around talking about money.

That taboo is convenient to employers. In the negotiation space, the employer has an uneven power dynamic of more information. California recently passed a law, AB 2282 The Fair Play Act bill, to help address this uneven power dynamic. As of Jan 1, 2019, it’s illegal for employers to ask about your salary history. Instead, they are permitted to ask about salary expectations.

The art of salary negotiation for designers, women and more
The art of salary negotiation for designers, women and more

There are 3 points that make up a comprehensive salary negotiation.

1. Know what you’re worth

Comparative research
Do online research to better understand salary ranges. Depending on your industry, look at salary comparison sites such as glassdoorpayscale, or (for large tech) which are all my US-centric examples. Specific professional groups often collect & share salary data. For designers, take a look at AIGA’s salary surveyCoroflot’s salary guidethe design censusThe Creative Group, and the Vitamin T consultancy.

If this online research may feel a bit generic or irrelevant, another way to do research is to start initiating salary conversations. Consider opening up a conversation with friends in your industry where you mutually share salaries. This is a hard conversation to have and may feel impossible given taboos about discussing money. Yet sharing this information only benefits each other.

When interviewing for jobs, the best way to know your worth is to try to create the scenario of having multiple offers in hand. While it’s difficult to create these conditions, even letting the negotiator know that you are still interviewing with other companies makes you more desirable.

Your value proposition
Gather your data and outline the benefits of what you bring to the job. Gather achievements & accomplishments based on data (e.g. sales numbers, customers reached, features shipped, etc.) as well as performance feedback. If you’re looking for an internal raise or promotion, start capturing your weekly & monthly wins so it’s easier to outline your value prop when it comes time for performance reviews.

2. Know what’s holding you back

“I’m afraid to ask. I’m thankful to just have made it in the door.”

“It’s a hard thing to ask for more money. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“They’ll take the offer away if I ask for more.”

“They’ll think that I’m selfish and not a team player.”

“I don’t know if I’m worth more than the offer”

I’ve heard variations of these limiting beliefs over and over again from many women. Many of us suffer from imposter syndrome, a belief that we’re not good enough, we don’t belong here, and perhaps we only got here through a combination of incredible luck and sheer hard work. Starting to notice these thoughts is a good first step. Next is realizing that you are not alone— these thoughts are common limiting beliefs, especially for women. Valerie Young does research & speaking around this topic. You can check out her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.

Research has shown that women are perceived as more likable when they present arguments for the common good. Like it or not, it’s one unconscious bias around female leaders that exists today in the professional world. It’s the result of decades and years of ongoing gender discrimination and can best be summed up with this statistic.

For workers with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, women are paid 75¢ for every $1 of a male counterpart¹

Knowing about systemic gender biases and the inherent unfairness of it can be a trigger to overcome what’s holding you back. Your negotiation is on behalf of an entire community of women, not simply yourself.

3. Know What You Want

Behavior change happens slowly over time. It happens when you can tangibly identify what you really want. This wanting-hoping-yearning for a different future helps as motivation to overcome what’s holding you back. As you enter a negotiation, consider what it is that really matters to you. My advice is to always negotiate on base salary — it forms the basis for your long-term wealth. However, consider what else really matters about this negotiation for you. It provides alternative options and flexibility should the first answer to a salary raise be “no.”

Things to ask for

  • Salary. This could include base salary, performance-based bonus, equity, and hiring bonus
  • Title
  • Vacation time, flex hours, working from home
  • Education budget/tuition reimbursement
  • Position responsibilities e.g. future headcount, budget numbers & responsibilities, role as team lead, ability to mentor others

Other things to keep in mind

  • Relationship with the hiring manager or negotiator. Treat this process as one touchpoint in an ongoing relationship. What are your hopes & dreams for the ideal relationship? Do you want it to be open, direct, trusting, fair, logical, or what else? Approach the negotiation with the intention in mind
  • How are you most comfortable negotiating— in person, over the phone, by email, or by messaging? My personal preference is over the phone, with a pre-practiced script, and possibly with an email follow-up. I’ve found that to be the most common method with recruiters for a new job. When asking for a promotion/raise, it tends to be in person. However, remember that you have autonomy and some control over the script. Which method are you most comfortable with? If you do the research and data-gathering, you could send it over first and then follow up with a conversation. For example, one of my (male) colleagues created & pre-shared a detailed spreadsheet outlining his research and salary comparables from industry friends.
  • It’s OK to be scared and nervous. Simply initiating the conversation starts to shift the power imbalance. This conversation can be in the negotiation context or a small step of starting to share salaries with a colleague.

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