When I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, for two years in the early '80s, I became very comfortable with bargaining. When you need to haggle for every taxi ride, and every market purchase, for a couple of years, your comfort with money talk increases. In fact, like most Thais, I've come to find friendly bargaining fun. This has served me well because I enjoy shopping for junktique collectibles where asking for price reductions is the norm.
In Thailand, as I traveled alone through the country, there were two questions that I was asked routinely. The first was whether or not I was married (I was not.) The second, which shocked me at first, was how much money I made. Thais were very curious about just how rich I was: there were few white American women traveling around their country whom they could ask because there were few who spoke Thai (which I did in a rudimentary sort of way.) All these questions about my paychecks made me much more comfortable than most Americans talking about money.
My relative comfort with paycheck discussions has served me well, I think, throughout my self-employed career, as I keep the fees for my private psychotherapy and coaching practice in line with "industry standards" and in my part of the country, Chapel Hill, NC. (My fee is $125 per hour for psychotherapy or coaching -- insurance usually covers a portion of psychotherapy; coaching is tax-deductible as a professional expense.)
This comfort with money talk, is in stark contrast with most of my academic coaching clients, who are extremely uncomfortable talking about green stuff. In our society, it is a much greater taboo to ask about people's salary and net worth than it is to discuss their sex life.
All this is a prelude to the point of today's post: there is a VERY IMPORTANT CHRONICLE ARTICLE that I'd like you all to read.
Using the pseudonym "Catherine Conrad", a savvy postdoc in the social sciences writes about how she negotiated her salary and start up package when she was offered a tenure track job.
I'm impressed that Catherine, the mom of a five year old, and nine months pregnant with her second child, has gotten a new job in the midst of her visible pregnancy. Go Girl! And I'm even more impressed by how she handled her salary negotiations and the 'research' she conducted to find out how colleagues had handled the process.
She found, and I agree, that women tend to be terrible at asking for and getting equitable salaries. Her descriptions of the passive way many of her peers have handled salary negotiations are instructive for us all. There are many Great Quotes in the piece.
In my coaching practice, I've found that most of the women I work with are very uncomfortable with the process of salary negotiation. Among the men I work with, however, there seems to be a much wider range of comfort and skill with the process. In my experience, there are some men who are brilliant at cocky paycheck requests, but I know many guys out there who "play like a girl" when it comes to salary negotiation.
For example, I've worked with one client for many years who is only just now negotiating for an equitable salary. He was a few years into a tenure track position but still hadn't finished his dissertation when he sought my help. He now has tenure. We hadn't discussed his salary until recently when I suggested that he look up his colleague’s salaries (easy to do because he's at a public university.) Sure enough, he was underpaid. We've worked together on this issue, and I won't go into our strategies, but suffice to say; now his pay is comparable to his peers at the same stage. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask and you shall receive. (I'm amazed at how many academics don't even want to ask.)
Another example: one coaching client found out, post-tenure, the details of everyone's salary by working on the Executive Committee. The client also got to read, while on this committee, every tenure package and annual review report, of every faculty member. All of a sudden this person had inside access to all sorts of important information. In passing, the client told me that it would have been possible to serve on this committee pre-tenure: one junior faculty member did each year. My client had decided not to lobby to work on the committee because it was known for being a big time commitment.
"WHAT?" I said, "You could have seen EVERYONE's salary, resume, yearly review report, and tenure packages and you didn't even try to get on the committee? Are you crazy?"
Fortunately, this client did get tenure (it was a close call.) But now I ask everyone I work with if they have a similar opportunity because I can't think of anything more helpful than having complete access to this information. As it is, I routinely recommend that my clients try to get their hands on as much of this material as possible -- usually by directly asking peers and mentors to see a copy of tenure applications, teaching portfolios, resumes and the like.
O.K. Now one of my clients needs your help: she needs to find out the salary of peers and we can't figure out an ethical way to do so besides asking directly. She is at an elite institution and one of the top departments in her field. Her salary is Very Good in comparison with the national range for the field -- numbers that are accessible via professional organizations. However, my client recently helped write a collaborative grant application that included requests for portions of the summer salaries of some tenured faculty members. When my client did the math, she found that these salaries were HUGE by national standards -- and that the lucrative paychecks were standard even for recent associate profs who weren't big names in the field.
She doesn't know what the salaries are for other assistant profs in her department (all male). But we both suspect that she may be significantly underpaid in comparison with some peers.
How can she find this information? My experience is mostly at public universities where this info is published. Is there an ethical way for her to discover the numbers given that social etiquette prevents her from asking people directly? Do you think that she should engage in a Watergate-esque break in? (Just kidding, sort of....)
People, share your experiences, please. We all need the info.
How have you handled salary negotiations? Are there things that you're glad you did? Things you wished you did differently? Suggestions you have for newbies on the job market? Any horror stories so that I can warn others?