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Female Neurologists Don't Negotiate Job Offers: How We Can Start

Avitzur, Orly MD, MBA, FAAN

doi: 10.1097/01.NT.0000516013.61489.82
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ARTICLE IN BRIEF

Equal pay consultant Katie Donovan offers analysis and strategies to help women physicians achieve equitable salaries and work conditions with their male counterparts.

Since the publication last July of an analysis finding that female academic neurologists earn the least of all specialties, and that neurologists have the widest gender pay gap, Neurology Today has published a series of stories that seek to shed light on its causes. One issue that has come to light in interviews with leaders in the field is that most women do not negotiate job offers. Research has examined why that is the case, and in repeated studies, the “social cost” of negotiation for pay has been found to be much more significant for women than men; that is, they face a backlash, risking that employers will be less inclined to work with them (deemed the social cost of asking).

Women tend to get an anxious feeling about negotiating for higher pay and they intuit, correctly, that self-advocating for a better package would present a difficult situation for them as compared to men, according to a June 2014 article in Harvard Business Review. But experts advise that the negotiation only requires taking a more calibrated approach, which can be learned.

To gain better insight about that approach, Neurology Today interviewed Katie Donovan, an equal pay consultant and founder of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, who works with individuals to negotiate their pay and benefits and with policy makers on the unintended biases in the hiring, promotion, and review processes. Donovan is co-president of the Massachusetts branch of the American Association of University Women and a founding member of The Massachusetts Equal Pay Coalition, which proposed and shepherded the new Massachusetts Equal Pay Law to passage in August 2016. This law is the first to ban questions of previous pay in the hiring process, legislation that Donovan first introduced in an April 2012 Change.org petition. The interview with Donovan was edited and excerpted for space and clarity.

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WHAT ARE SOME OF THE REASONS WHY MOST FEMALE PHYSICIANS MAKE LESS MONEY THAN THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS?

Many reasons come up in conversations and research of gender pay gaps. One example [frequently cited] is that women have children [and childrearing duties may interfere with their work], yet women with no children experience gender pay gaps as well. Another is that women work fewer hours. We can drill down though many individual aspects, and all of them put the onus on the victims, the women. We should never blame the victim for being a victim.

Putting a different lens on it, institutional biases and unintentional individual biases do also come into play. Statistically, women start earning less than men in their first job. The practice of asking for your previous pay and then basing your future pay on it is an institutional bias. Research shows that the exact same resume is deemed less capable when the name on the top changes from a name that is masculine to a name that is feminine. That would be an unintentional individual bias.

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So, institutions and individuals need to work on fixing the issue. Yet, just like taking self-defense classes, it is helpful for women to be informed about what is happening and how they can minimize or eliminate the impact.

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WHAT DO WOMEN JUST OUT OF RESIDENCY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEIR FIRST JOB OFFER?

That it is the first offer, not the final offer. You need to negotiate the offer to make an informed decision about the offer. The negotiation lets you see how quickly they add more money, more vacation, make a statement that does not quite ring true, or give you a reason for no increase that is meaningless. Research on what the market pays for the job needs to be done regardless if you actively negotiate or not.

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WHAT ABOUT ASKING YOUR PEERS?

I'm not a fan of the personal information from peers. Research data from websites like Salary.com or trade associations will provide information based on a much bigger database. Plus, women tend to ask other women who are statistically underpaid, which gives them a false sense of earning a good amount.

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HOW DO WOMEN APPROACH A JOB OFFER OR ASK FOR A RAISE DIFFERENTLY THAN MEN?

Here's a broad stroke generalization — men just do it. It's a game to them, and it's fun. Women think of negotiating with the same anxiety of going to the dentist for a drilling. Thus women tend not to do it. Studies show that for every eight men who negotiate their employment, only one woman does.

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WHAT DISADVANTAGES DO WOMEN FACE WHEN IT COMES TO NEGOTIATION?

All candidates have the same disadvantage — the employer has more information than the job candidate. As for a disadvantage between men and women, men have the advantage of negotiating more often, so they are more comfortable and confident about their skill. Research from Harvard University shows that women lose when not negotiating because money is left on the table. Women also “lose” when they do negotiate because they often are dinged with being pushy, witchy, etc. Luckily there are ways to neutralize that, and there is a very quick fix: Lay some charm or sugar on the person with whom you are negotiating to neutralize the “witch factor.”

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WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES WOMEN MAKE WHEN THEY APPLY FOR POSITIONS OR TRY TO NEGOTIATE A BETTER PACKAGE?

Not negotiating. One study shows that 84 percent of hiring managers expect negotiation. That means for at least 84 percent of the time there is more money available and that the hiring managers are ready to give some, if not all, of it. Not negotiating leaves a good chunk of money on the table. That is the biggest mistake anyone can make, man or woman.

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WHAT CAN WOMEN DO TO IMPROVE THEIR NEGOTIATION SKILLS?

Stop thinking of it as a fight or as conflict. Negotiating is one step in the hiring process. No more and no less, although for you it is very personal. It can be the difference between a good vacation, a better home, day care or a nanny, and so much more. For the employer, it is just one more thing on their to-do list that day. There is nothing personal about it. One client shared with me that she started her negotiation for a raise off with, “I know this is uncomfortable, but I'd like to talk about a raise.” Her boss' response: ‘No. It's not. It's business. There is nothing awkward about business. So let's get started.’

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ARE THERE TECHNIQUES THAT CAN BE LEARNED?

Absolutely. Research shows women excel at the collaborative style of negotiating so I recommend learning the collaborative approach. It's basically asking questions, considering the other parties' needs, and never making demands. For example, a collaborative approach would involve saying, ‘I'm surprised that the offer does not include school loan repayment. Can we discuss?’ A demanding approach would be to say, ‘I could not consider an offer that does not have at least a $50,000 school loan repayment in the package.’ Both sentences start the discussion about having that in your employment package, while one is more conversational and less adversarial.

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IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO WHEN ENGAGED IN A NEGOTIATION AND WE ARE FACED WITH EXPLICIT GENDER BIAS OR WE SUSPECT IMPLICIT BIAS IS PLAYING A ROLE?

All women have encountered gender bias, explicit and implicit, throughout our lives. If we stopped to point it out every time it happened, we would never get anything done. Maybe they hear something like, ‘Oh, I see you have an engagement ring. Best wishes! How are the wedding plans going?’ These seemingly engaging comments are really to designed to see how much you will be planning the wedding and not working. My response, playing right into the gender bias, would be, ‘My mom is running the show. I just need to show up in a white dress that she selected.’

Seemingly before the interview gets started, someone may reference an activity they will be doing with their children after work. Then an amazingly innocent question may follow: ‘Katie, have you ever done that?’ It looks like they are trying to connect with you personally but they are gauging the caregiving obligations you have. I would respond with the non-response as if you were so engaged with what they are doing you ask a question about it and not give a direct response. ‘Oh, apple-picking! It's been forever since I've gone. Where do you go?’

Then there are the amazing direct questions like, ‘Do you plan on having kids?’ Or a comment that the hours of the job may overlap into childcare. These are questions to mommy track you and pay you less for it. Responses can be something like, ‘I went into neurology because this is my passion. I understand and I like the hours the job requires. I have no concern about that aspect of the job. I do have a question on another topic.’ Then ask a question to change the topic.

For your own personal benefit, I would use other tactics than calling it out in your own negotiations. I say this because there is a danger of getting human resources to ‘lawyer everyone up’ when you talk about bias in any hiring process. For the benefit of your women colleagues and the women who will follow your footsteps, wait a few months and then bring it up with your boss. She or he will be more willing to listen when it is not something you personally will gain from immediately.

Neurology Today Associate Editor Dr. Avitzur is chair of the AAN Medical Economics and Management Committee.

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WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE SET FOR AAN ANNUAL MEETING

Katie Donovan, a frequent contributor to Forbes, NPR, Huffington Post and other media, will be presenting more tips and insights at the full-day Women in Leadership conference being held at the AAN Annual Meeting on Saturday, April 22. Orly Avitzur, MD, MBA, FAAN; Janice Massey, MD, FAAN; and Barbara Hoese, an executive and leadership development coach, are co-directors of the day's program. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of leaders in the field, including Robin Brey, MD, FAAN; Maisha Robinson, MD, MS; Ann Tilton, MD, FAAN; and Barbara Vickrey, MD, MPH, FAAN. Pre-registration is required.

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LINK UP FOR MORE INFORMATION:

•. Avitzur O. The leakiest pipeline: All too few women get to run their own neuroscience labs. Neurol Today 2017; 17(3): 1, 18-20. http://bit.ly/leakypipeline-NT
•. Fallik D. Salary disparities reported between men and women academic physicians — The widest gap is in neurology. Neurol Today 2016; 16 (16): 1, 32-34. http://bit.ly/salarydisparity-NT
© 2017 American Academy of Neurology