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The Cost Of Asking: What Happens When Women Negotiate?

Workin' Girl

A few months ago, I had a breakthrough. After a promotion led to me having a completely different supervisor, what was once a five-year plan to transition out of the organization I was working at, turned into five-month plan. It's a scary point in my life that I haven't found myself at before: I'm not leaving a job because I want better pay or a higher position, I want to leave simply because I'm unhappy. Being thrust back into the job search made me come clean about what I'm lacking as a mid-level professional, and one thing stood out in particular: I'm a horrible negotiator.

It's something I know I need to work on. I'm the kind of person that's happy to have health insurance and being able to maintain my Netflix subscription. But as I get older, and now that I have a family of my own, I'm realizing I need to fight for what's fair when it comes to my salary, because the truth is most companies will aim to get away with compensating you as little as possible.

Women are often told that a closed mouth doesn't get fed, and they need to negotiate their worth, but are employers insulted when they actually do?

Turns out my hesitation with negotiating might be completely justified, as Maria Konnikova pointed out in her New Yorker essay "Lean Out: The Dangers For Women Who Negotiate." She refers to negotiation where gender is involved as “a careful balancing act," and looked at a study on how gender affects negotiation done by Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the director of the Women and Power program. Bowles collaborated with Carnegie Mellon for a series of studies that found that women were penalized far more than men when they asked for higher salaries.

It gets worse.

The studies also found that women were just as guilty of penalizing other women who didn't take what was initially offered, but they also penalized the men just as much. Bowles says, “They just didn't seem to like seeing someone ask for more money."

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In a follow-up study, Bowles asked participants to switch roles so that the employer was now the prospective employee. When she asked the women were they comfortable negotiating their salaries in the same situations, the women responded that they weren't and in fact were afraid the conversation would turn against them if they did. Bowles came to the conclusion that once any conversation turns to money, regardless of what pronoun you prefer, employers just plain don't like having to pay out money they wouldn't have to if you just shut up and accepted their first offer. But women are on the losing end because men were less likely to be looked at unfavorably for demanding more pay, in fact, it was almost expected.

"Lean Out" also revealed that employers looked for different values in women than they did men. In a study done by Rutgers, researcher Julie Phelan discovered that during the interview process employers focused more on women's social skills than their professional background, where interviews with men revolved solely around qualifications. Sorry ladies, it appears that Mean Girls didn't just end in 2004, getting a job is apparently a popularity contest too.

So does this mean that we should just shut up and be thankful for whatever is thrown our way during the job hunt? According to Katie Donovan, that's exactly what we should do, well at least the keeping our mouths shut part. The founder of consulting agency, Equal Pay Negotiations says that women give themselves an advantage when they learn to handle a little awkward silence. "In sales, this is something that people are constantly trained in," she says in the article "A Woman's Most Powerful Negotiation Tool? Silence."

"You need to stop selling against yourself. That's what happens when you keep talking. You need to ask a question, then shut up and give the other person a chance to respond."

Donovan says it helps to ask questions and listen, give prospective employers a chance to wonder where your head is at and yourself a chance to evaluate if this is the place you really want to be.

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She also suggests thinking of negotiations as more than what your direct deposit is going to look like. Perks are just as important as pay. Maybe the organization genuinely just doesn't have the money to give, but take into consideration things like a company car, working from home or having a flexible schedule. These things can be negotiated as well. Donovan also warns women to not be blinded by the B.S. “Employers have many savvy ways to convince you not to negotiate. Sometimes, it will come across as flattery: 'You're such a great candidate that I didn't want to bother with negotiating—so I went to bat and got you the highest salary you could possibly start with.'"

She warns you to do your research. Search what professionals in your area are making in their positions with sites like Salary.com. Be ready to present why your background is worth what you're asking and role-play situations until negotiating doesn't seem so foreign.

What I learned most from researching the art of negotiation is how different men are socialized from women. Boys are often raised to be confident and to question authority when they feel taken advantage of, while girls are often raised to be respectful and follow the rules.

Unfortunately, this is hurting us where it literally counts the most: our pockets.

I'm still working on the confidence to counter-offer, and now that I think of it, a dress code that includes graphic tee Tuesdays would be pretty dope too, but one thing is for sure: my well-being at work is something I refuse to ever compromise on again.

Have you ever negotiated a good deal or were you and your demands shown to the door?

Originally published May 8, 2017

Featured image by Getty Images

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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