What’s my Worth?

Feats of strength can substitute for negotiations

When negotiations fail: arm wrestle (Boston College Festivus 2010, Me and Megan Kelly).

For many of us, evaluating our worth in the professional world is daunting. This intimidation keeps us from negotiating and then leaves us asking, “what if…,” long after sealing the deal. For women, there may even be guilt associated with mishandling negotiations since no one wants to perpetuate the ominous “salary gap.” Women in Bio, San Francisco, offered a negotiation helping hand February 26th at Nektar to remove some of the fear from getting what you are worth.

First, let’s take away some of the pressure. We have all heard the statistic that women make $0.77 for every $1 that a man makes. Early in 2014 Christina Hoff Sommers addressed this misleading statistic in U.S. News and then revisited the the idea as Feminist Myth 5 in TIME later that year. The statistic is based on average income for men and women and when you control for specific jobs, the gap nearly vanishes. Based on the career adjusted statistics, the real emphasis should be on choosing more profitable college majors if women want to earn more, not more aggressive negotiating.

Mary Haak-Frendscho, the event’s moderator, did bring up an interesting statistic from a Pew Research Center article. According to the article, women, on average, earn 93 percent of what men earn until they are 35. After 35, the average earnings shift to the 77 percent statistic. What happens at 35? It is something to consider and I guess I will find out this year.

Now that we are able to negotiate guilt-free since the future of women-kind is not on our shoulders, how do we prepare to come to the table? BioCentury Executive Editor, Simone Fishburn’s advice to do extensive, “soul searching before you walk into a negotiation,” is the lynchpin of preparation. We have to know our priorities.

When I first went on the job market after my postdoc, I had a long and detailed list of “priorities.” After some soul searching, and some experience, it was clear everything fit in four points: 1) a professional environment; 2) a collaborative, supportive, and respectful team; 3) a flexible schedule; and 4) part of my job is something I would do as a hobby. Number 4 may sound unusual, but examples for me are roles with a writing component (this blog is for fun) or forming partnerships (I enjoy networking and talking shop). A simple set of priorities helps with evaluation of and negotiation of roles.

Dilbert on the art of negotiation

There is always something to negotiate.

We should also enter a negotiation with realistic goals. Startups are going to be very different then Pfizer, which is different than non-profits. Dorian Hirth, Senior Vice President of human resources at Nektar, and Mimi Hancock, Partner at Spencer Stuart, both emphasized reasonable expectations several times. As far as salary, there are some online resources like Salary.com, Glassdoor, and SimplyHired, but much of their information is self-reported and they tend to inflate industry standards. In biotech, I have not found them to be very useful. The Radford guidance is ideal and what human resource professionals consult, but it is a pay service. “Your network is one of the most important things you can do,” according to Hirth. Your network is ultimately your best tool for industry information and advice on setting expectations around your priority list.

A few negotiables that I had not considered that came up in the panel discussion were promotion schedule, conference attendance, and opportunities to interact with higher management or partners. It is a phenomenal idea to use negotiation time to secure opportunities and emphasize priorities. It may give you more leeway than the typical salary/vacation/equity route. For me, since a flexible schedule is important, negotiating early mornings in exchange for free evenings and conference attendance to keep me talking shop and networking are options.

With our priorities and a realistic plan, it is time to go to the table. Here our greatest asset is, “confidence in your skill set,” says Hirth. We should not be afraid to ask as the worst they can say is no. However, avoid being obnoxious. Emphasize your desire for things to work out and put forth solutions suggests Fishburn. Hancock advises to, “look for cues and clues,” that you may be souring the relationship and to be open, honest, and transparent.

Realism and practicality in negotiations

Stay true to your priorities and be prepared to walk away.

Finally, Fishburn reminds us that negotiations are still part of the interview process so, “listen to the things they are not telling you.” This will provide important insight into what the working environment will be like and the personality of the future boss. If you feel you are not being valued or that you will have to compromise on your priorities, walk away. The situation will not improve when you are with them 40+ hours every week.

The take away is: in a negotiation be informed, relaxed, and confident and get what you are worth, or walk away, something else will come along.

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