‘Be Willing to Walk Away': 6 Black Women Career Coaches on Negotiating Your Salary and Countering a Low Offer


Salary negotiations can be nerve-wracking due to the anxiety and fear that often comes with asking for more money at work. But for women, particularly women of color, failing to negotiate your salary can have long-term consequences on how much you earn throughout your career.

Today, the average woman who works full time, year-round earns 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. For many women of color, this pay gap is even larger, with Black women earning 63 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Native American women and Latinas earning 60 cents and 55 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white men.

This wage gap, which has only closed by 3 cents over the last 30 years for Black women, according to the National Women's Law Center, means that Black women must work until Aug. 3 in 2021 to reach the same pay white men earned in 2020. Over the course of a 40-year career, Black women stand to lose a staggering $964,400 due to this wage gap, with Native American women and Latinas losing even more, reports NWLC.

Certainly bias and discrimination contribute to this disparity, according to reports. But, there are also things that individuals can do to help increase their pay.

For Black Women's Equal Pay Day, CNBC Make It spoke to six Black women career coaches about their best advice for negotiating your salary at work and their top tips for countering a lowball offer if you receive one.

Sherry Sims, Founder of Black Career Women's Network

Black Career Women's Network founder Sherry Sims.
Photo courtesy of subject.
Black Career Women's Network founder Sherry Sims.

What you should know before negotiating your salary

First thing is do your research because there are certain things you should consider when talking about salary. One is how large is the company because that will sometimes determine the pay range. Also, what is the median pay for your market because the same job in Chicago might not pay the same if you're in a small town in Texas. Then, also look at the experience and education requirements for the position to see if they are putting more weight on one over the other because that can also be a determining factor.

Then, once you do your research, you want to look at what it is you need in terms of pay and make sure that you are asking for your worth and that it is within reason. So, just do your homework first to be prepared and then also educate yourself because a lot of women don't know that it is illegal in the majority of states for an employer to ask about your salary history.

Jacqueline Twillie, Founder of ZeroGap

Founder of ZeroGap Jacqueline Twillie
Photo credit: Cat Harper
Founder of ZeroGap Jacqueline Twillie

Resources for finding your industry's market rate

One of the big things that I see really hurting a lot of Black women is they'll base their salary expectations off of maybe their monthly expenses or what a peer is making instead of directly getting the market rate. And when folks are getting the market rate their next mistake is that they are only getting the online data from maybe Glassdoor or Salary.com. They are great places to start, but we don't know how old that data is and we don't know who submitted that data so it's important to fact check. I like the Blind app and the Fishbowl app as a place to get real time information if you don't have folks in your network who can give you some solid data points on the market rate.

What to do if you get an offer below market rate

If you get a lowball offer, what you should do is counter it. But, I tell people all the time to express enthusiasm for the offer, even if it's lowball. Say, "I'm excited to have the offer. I want to move forward. However, I'm disappointed that this is below market rate and I just want to be focused on delivering the work without worrying about money and other things. What can we do to get to market rate for this role?"

So that's the way to counter a low offer, but be willing to walk away [because] what I typically find with Black women is they end up in a cycle where they think they'll get their foot in the door and then it will work out and it doesn't and they end up just looking for another job.

Kimberly Cummings, Career and Leadership Development Expert

Career and leadership development expert Kimberly Cummings.
Photo courtesy of subject.
Career and leadership development expert Kimberly Cummings.

Advice for articulating your value

It is so important that you are competent and confident in assessing your own value and being able to articulate that throughout the interview process. One of the biggest mistakes I see professionals make, especially women of color, is not articulating their value upon their first interaction with the employer. If you wait until the last possible second when they are offering you a job with X salary it's almost too late to kind of reinstate and go back and articulate your value.

Many times, women of color may be going into their interview process feeling discouraged, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling undervalued and underappreciated and they really allow imposter syndrome to take over. It's very important that when they're having these [salary] conversations that they're shedding as much of that weight as possible and that they're standing on the results and impact they've had in the workplace.

Sometimes, I see people don't want to talk about what they've done because maybe it wasn't important to their last boss. Maybe their boss didn't care that they led a multimillion dollar project or that they built something from scratch so they've learned to diminish their accomplishments. But, when you're in an interview process negotiating your salary, that is the time to show up and show out unapologetically.

Ariel Lopez, Career Coach and CEO of Hello Knac

Career coach and entrepreneur Ariel Lopez.
Photo credit: Ariel Lopez
Career coach and entrepreneur Ariel Lopez.

Biggest mistake to avoid when negotiating salary

I think if you're talking to a recruiter and if they ask you what you want to be making, you always want to give a range and never an exact number. I think that's one of the biggest mistakes people make because once you give an exact number, it ultimately kind of takes you out of the running for getting more.

So quick example: If you are making let's say $60,000 and ideally you want to be making $70,000 in your next role, when the recruiter asks you how much you're looking for let them know that everything you're interviewing for falls between the range of $70,000 to $90,000. So, usually what will happen is the recruiter will come back and more times than not they'll meet you halfway. So if the range is $70,000 to $90,000 they may come back with $80,000 and now you have just increased your base by $20,000 without really having to try.

How to address a pay disparity at a job you're already in

First and foremost, before you even have a conversation with HR or your manager, you need to take a moment to literally write down every single thing that you've done at the company since you've been there and what you've accomplished. I suggest just always keeping an open doc of those things because ultimately that's your leverage.

Then, when you go sit down and have a conversation, whether you're talking about a pay disparity or you're simply asking for a raise, these are the justifications. If you're talking about being paid less than someone that is one of your colleagues, then companies know they can get in a lot of trouble for that so that's a big part of the leverage. But, the other piece of that leverage is your track record. So anytime you can speak to this is how long I've been here, this is everything that I've worked on, these are the top accounts that I've brought into the company, this is how much money I have brought into the company or this is how much money I have saved the company, that is always helpful.

Latesha Byrd, Career Coach and Talent Development Consultant

Career Coach and Talent Development Consultant Latesha Byrd.
Photo credit: Josh Cozy
Career Coach and Talent Development Consultant Latesha Byrd.

Best advice for negotiating during the interview process

The most important thing is to let go of self-limiting beliefs that tell you that you don't deserve more. Always ask for 10% higher than what you truly want to help cover a range. And get comfortable negotiating more than just salary if they decline: Think about more PTO, work-from-home opportunities, professional development training, equipment, mentorship, travel benefits, transportation stipend, relocation package, etc. Don't settle for "no." It's a two-way conversation, not a confrontation.

Angelina Darrisaw, CEO of C-Suite Coach

CEO of C-Suite Coach Angelina Darrisaw.
Photo credit: Katie Nunez
CEO of C-Suite Coach Angelina Darrisaw.

When to discuss salary during the interview process

When it comes to understanding the salary range, you should at least begin the conversation of what that range is and see if there is alignment there in the beginning of the process. But in terms of the actual negotiation, that should begin once you receive the actual offer.

In most cases there is a range, and that first offer tends to be at the lower end of the range. So my first piece of advice will be to make sure that you are negotiating. And, I think this is especially critical for Black women and all people of color because what tends to happen is due to the impact of systemic racism on us, due to how we've been socialized, a lot of times we have hesitancy to ask for things. So, there is a resocialization that needs to happen for us to gain comfort and confidence in pushing back and saying, "No, that's not enough."

How to respond to a lowball offer on a job you really want

Be gracious and thank them for what they've offered, but also be firm about what it is that you want to accept. Oftentimes there is this fear that an offer will be taken away or that you won't be able to have the role if you push back, but understand that if a company has gotten to a place where they've extended you an offer then they likely want you as much as you want that role.

While there may be limits, particularly if it's a small company that is working through some budget challenges, there are often areas in which they can still accommodate you. Oftentimes, companies might have partnerships with talent and development groups, or colleges and universities for executive education opportunities. Or they may have opportunities to be more flexible with your vacation time or other benefits like stock repurchase programs. So, there is a lot that can be in the conversation outside of salary that sometimes is just as valuable.

*These interviews have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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