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Do You Know Your Value?

Gender Wage Gap - Negotiate

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We often hear that we get what we deserve in life. But how do savvy professional women assess and communicate their value to make sure they get what they deserve in negotiations?

Whether you’re hoping for a promotion, a pay raise, a shift in responsibilities, or a more flexible work schedule, professional negotiations rest on your ability to effectively communicate the value you bring to the table.

Negotiations can be tricky for everyone, but professional women face some unique challenges when it comes to striking a fair bargain. However, for women to effectively communicate the value they offer, they must first know it themselves.


So before we launch into a conversation about getting what you deserve, we pose the question to you – Do you know what you are worth?

Key Mental Hurdles

  • You Just Need to Work Hard – We have come to believe the myth that if we just work hard, then we will be organically rewarded with promotions and increased salaries. As Dr. Chester Karrass proclaimed in his aptly titled book, “In Business As in Life, You Don’t Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate“. It offers one explanation for why competent and hardworking men and women fail to earn what their skills are worth. If you can do one thing to improve compensation for your knowledge, skills and abilities, replace this bad thinking with this fact – You have not because You ask not.
  • Skills are Worth What You Feel They are Worth –  Nicole Stephens, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, notes that – unlike men, who may tend to overvalue their own strengths and contributions – “women are more likely to systematically underestimate their value.” Stephens notes that this is especially true “when standards are ambiguous” – that is, in the absence of information about what peers are receiving and about performance expectations. Fortunately, when that ambiguity disappears, the gender gap does to. So don’t expect yourself to accurately assess your value in the absence of information. Your skills have an objective market value, and that value is discoverable.

So how can you remove some of that ambiguity to more accurately assess your value?

Do Your Homework


Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and author of Knowing Your Value, recommends first doing some field research.

  • Find out what your colleagues are making –  If it’s a pay raise you’re looking for, it’s important to know what others with similar skills, experience and responsibilities are making. How do you find out? Ask. You would be surprised to learn how willing others are to share this information because they too would like to know. Colleagues at work and in trade associations are good places to start. Be sure to ask both men and women.
  • Assess the market value of your skills and abilities to understand the potential range that is appropriate to seek during negotiation. Tools like www.salary.com, www.payscale.com and www.glassdoor.com should be go-to resources for initial research and on-going updates to your understanding of the objective market value of your skills. If you are working with headhunters and other career search professionals, they too can be good sources of information.

Do your homework so you have a good sense of where you fit within the field of possibilities. And remember to update your data annually. Like home values, market value for skills can fluctuate.

Do an Honest Self-Assessment

Brzezinski notes that part of your research should be a self-assessment. Being well-informed about how your contributions and assets compared to those of your peers will help you have confidence that what you’re asking for is reasonable and well-deserved.

  • Taking the perspective of your company or organization, make a list of all the ways you add value. Keep track of your accomplishments. Make note of any skills you have that are currently underutilized. Highlight any unique assets you bring to the table that may set you apart. Don’t underestimate relational factors that are not typically recognized but which are still vital to organizations.
  • Consider consulting with trusted colleagues or mentors to see what you may have overlooked: they might point out important contributions you’ve made that you have undervalued.

That being said, assessing your value and having confidence in yourself is one thing, but communicating that value in a negotiation and asking for what you want is another.  

Ask! Ask With Confidence! (But Justify Your Request)


Asking for what you deserve can be hard to actually do even with market research in hand.  According to Professor Stephens, research has shown that women are not only less likely to ask (or likely to ask for less) than men, but unfortunately when they do ask, they’re more likely to be judged harshly.

Whereas men who drive a hard bargain tend to be seen as both more competent and more likeable, women who do the same tend to be seen as more competent but less likeable – and to experience negative consequences in their professional lives. This is true even if they initially get what they’re asking for.  They may initially “succeed,” but they are more likely to pay a penalty down the line. Now, there’s a double bind if I ever saw one.

So what’s a savvy, professional woman who knows her worth to do?

  • Frame Your Request as Relational & Demonstrate Your Organizational Commitment

As Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and author of Lean In) advises, women can often avoid these negative consequences by pairing a confident request with a rationale or justification – preferably one that demonstrates their organizational commitment.

Professor Stephens explains that, in negotiating on their own behalf, women are going against gender stereotypes, and, like it or not, this makes people uncomfortable. Providing a rationale can ease this discomfort and allow women to avoid the negative ramifications they might otherwise face in negotiating on their own behalf. Of course, keeping this all in mind can be intimidating.

  • Be Aware of Gender Biases, But Don’t Let Them Hold You Back

While both Sandberg and Stephens note that it is unfortunate that women may need to justify their requests while their male counterparts do not, they also advise that women need to be aware of the biases that persist in our culture and – rather than feel discouraged – they need to use this knowledge to ensure that they receive the compensation and advancement they deserve.

Dana Nelson

Dana Nelson

Dana Nelson is a clinical psychologist with a M.S. and Ph.D. from Penn State University whose recent research has focused on the psychotherapy process. She has previously contributed to research on social psychology and negotiation.