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Negotiation: A Magical Solution?

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This month’s Good Jobs blog post is by Megan Dorwin, an MSW student at the University of Washington and an intern at WSCADV.

photo by Glenn Sapaden
photo by Glenn Sapaden

I recently attended an event for social workers on wage negotiation. I came to that event to learn how to present myself as a knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated employee package that employers would want. Instead, I was told to be thankful for the job offer and remember I’m not in this field to make money! In other words, don’t negotiate. As you might imagine, I came away with conflicting feelings about how to progress in my job search. But it got me thinking about how complex the issue really is, and how hard it is for both workers and organizations to navigate.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the root cause of the gender wage gap. The most recent fad seems to indicate that simply teaching women concrete negotiation skills will help them earn similar wages as men. If you follow a few simple steps and embrace female stereotypes of femininity, you too can take charge of your financial future.And while it’s true that negotiation is a factor in the wage gap, it is not the silver bullet for ending wage disparities that the media would have you believe.

A variety of factors impact wage disparities, including the kind of industry in which a woman is being hired to and who is doing the hiring (and where his or her personal biases are when it comes to assertive women). While women face similar experiences of socialization that impact their relationship with wage negotiation, there’s a difference between women getting hired in the for-profit sector and in the non-profit sector. In for-profit companies workers are expected to negotiate wages and benefits. This helps workers feel valued and supported in the workplace, allowing them to receive a fair wage for their education and experiences and creating a sense of ownership which can lead to happier workers who are more invested in the company.

Women in non-profit work, however, face organizational cultures where negotiation is not expected. Organizations are operating with limited budgets and workers are often pressured to take what they’re offered. There’s a push-pull internal dialogue that occurs for many women in this field between their dedication to the work and their financial demands. It goes something like this: This is good work. Important- no- vital to my community. I went back to school to make how much? I’ll have to get organized with my budget. But it’s a great organization and this is what I want to do…It’s an either-or mindset that pits quality services against quality pay and benefit packages for staff.   I would like to push back on this dichotomy, because I believe it’s possible for organizations to pay a wage that reflects their workers’ expertise and ensures financial stability.

So please share with us, as leaders in this movement, how are you creating a culture of openness that encourages negotiation within your organizations? How are your agencies balancing limited resources and providing good jobs? Do we really have to choose between services for survivors and a well-paid staff

(Do we, says the woman who is currently looking for a job in the field 🙂 )?

We know the wage gap exists for many reasons, some of which include socialization, pregnancy and parenthood, fear of retribution, messages about organizational culture, and career trajectory.  The argument that providing women with skills for wage negotiation will lead to a decrease in wage disparities is simply wrong. No one cause can be blamed for the gap and no one solution will resolve it.

P.S. Here’s a brilliant video to shed some light on pay disparities and hopefully bring a smile to your face. Disney Princesses for Equal Pay – need I say more?