Navigating Salary Negotiations to Decrease the Gender Pay Gap

By Laurie Haws posted 04-04-2019 13:23



Esther Haugabrooks of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Lauren Lewis of Texas A&M University are co-authors of this post.

Beyond the Scientific Sessions at the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, there also are workshops that focus on professional development. A prime example was the event “Improving Your Negotiation Skills to Close the Salary Gap,” organized by the Women in Toxicology Special Interest Group and partly sponsored by SOT mentor initiative matching funds. More than 70 women packed into a conference room with standing room only to discuss improving negotiation skills to close the gender salary gap.

Dr. Abigail Lewis from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) facilitated this interactive event, which focused on helping women of all career stages learn how to negotiate a fair salary. Dr. Lewis opened up the workshop by stating that “although the gender pay gap is narrowing, women who work full time take home 80 cents for every dollar a full-time male employee earns.” Dr. Lewis also shared statistics based on the current population survey that Asian, white, black/African American, and Hispanic/Latina women receive 87%, 79%, 63%, and 54% of white men’s earnings, respectively.

This roused a question from an attendee: “Does this factor in education?” To which Dr. Lewis replied, “Yes.”

One of the main contributors to the salary gap is that historically women do not negotiate their salary. Dr. Lewis posed the question to the packed room, why is that? “We’re too shy,” one woman said. Women might be conditioned to feel the need to be likeable or avoid being called harsh names and thus tend not to rock the proverbial boat. They may feel afraid to speak up or be assertive with salary needs. “Pride,” another woman said. She felt like her employer, or future employer, would or should inherently value her work. Therefore, pride might hinder one from asking for a raise or higher salary if that proved not to be the case. Other plausible reasons were given, but one comment summed up a theme of what other women were saying in different ways: “Some women undervalue their own work.” This was a perfect segue into the goals of this workshop, which were to help participants identify and articulate personal value, discuss negotiation strategies, and provide advice on researching target salaries in order to close the gender pay gap. Below are key points that were discussed during the workshop.

Know Your Value

During salary negotiations, it is necessary to articulate your value to your employer. This can be achieved with value statements that demonstrate your strengths, accomplishments, and skills. Dr. Lewis stressed writing by hand what accomplishments you are proud of and what ways you have improved the value of your organization or carried out the company’s mission. Participants practiced crafting their own value statements during the workshop.

In addition, Dr. Lewis emphasized the importance of documenting your activities so you can provide evidence of your contributions and experiences to reinforce your value statements during your salary negotiation. Don’t forget to include tasks you took on. Emailing yourself weekly reports is an example of how to collect an organized portfolio of your achievements.

Do Your Research and Know the Facts

To effectively negotiate a fair salary, it is important to do your homework about the worth of a specific job and its benefits. Dr. Lewis suggested searching for salaries of comparable job titles on websites that contain objective market-based information. If you can’t find your position title, get creative with other position titles to find salary targets. Evaluate the job descriptions, job duties, and required education levels to see if the position is similar to your job of interest.

In addition, there are a number of resources, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics,,, and, that help you understand what the average salary is for your current or pending position. Although it may seem taboo to talk about salary, ask a colleague or trusted resource what salary range you should expect based on known information.

Establish Your Desired Salary

Before you begin negotiations, it is important to identify your target salary, which is the desired salary you are striving for in your negotiations. Dr. Lewis recommended setting the target salary at the median of the salary distribution for your job. This will serve as the “anchor” for your target salary range when you begin negotiations. From there, stretching the target salary 10%–15% will create the top of your range. In addition, Dr. Lewis reminded participants that it is important to negotiate for benefits along with their salary. Finally, Dr. Lewis stressed identifying your “walk-away” point, which is the lowest salary you will accept. This is intended to prevent you from accepting an offer that is too low based on your identified value.

Develop Your Negotiation Strategy

Enter your negotiations meeting with a plan. This is the time to incorporate your value statements and salary research. Brainstorm how your employer might respond to your requests and be prepared with various responses supported by your research and accomplishments. Most importantly, practice your strategy! Going through your plan with friends or family can help increase your confidence for negotiating with your employer. By knowing your value and target salary, you can successfully negotiate with a future or current employer. Negotiating may seem intimidating, but being prepared will help you achieve the salary you deserve.

Dr. Lewis stated there is no magic bullet, but there are tools and strategies available to help women feel confident in the workforce. This event was invaluable for woman employees and all employers, particularly as an avenue to continue the conversation increasing the momentum of change in the gender pay gap.

For additional information about AAUW and their free online course, visit AAUW has an organizational goal to train 10 million women in salary negotiations within five years.

This blog was prepared by SOT Reporters. SOT Reporters are SOT members who volunteer to write about sessions and events they attend during the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. If you are interested in participating in the SOT Reporter program in the future, please email Giuliana Macaluso.