A Guide to Salary Negotiation for Women in Tech

How women in tech and software companies can avoid unfair compensation in the application process.

From 2016 to 2019, the hatch I.T. team collected data from 1,365 software engineers in the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area. We compiled the results into the 2020 DMV Software Engineering Compensation Report. Our results showed differences between male and female developers’ salaries in the DC Metro area, and revealed some opportunities to level the playing field.

Armed with this data, women may be able to negotiate better salaries. Our dataset revealed that on average, women look for a 5% salary increase when applying to a new position, whereas men look for a 7% salary increase.

For example, a male senior developer would expect to go from $160k to $171k, while a female senior developer in the same position would seek to raise her salary up to $168k. That difference might not seem like much, but compounded year after year, it leads to the local gender pay gap that is close to 10%.

The roots of these results are complex, as there are many reasons for a gap in the salary of male and female employees. Countless studies have been done on the topic, like Forbes’ study on the myths around the gender pay gap and WSJ’s take on the reason for wage disparity.

We wanted to uncover some of the individual stories of women who have succeeded as software developers in the DMV area, despite encountering roadblocks along the way. We sat down with Ali Spittel, a self-taught software engineer who holds a distinguished faculty role at General Assembly’s Software Engineering Immersive, and Veni Kunche, a long time software developer and founder of Diversify Tech.

We had three main questions:

  • What is your approach to negotiating a salary?
  • How can women in tech succeed in negotiating their salary?
  • How can companies make salary negotiation more approachable?

 

You should be paid what you are worth.

We asked Veni and Ali about their approach to salary negotiation.

For both of them, the first step in the process is to get in the right mindset about salary.

Ali explained that she grew up in a rural town. When she got her first offer at a tech company, the amount seemed exorbitant.

But compared to what?

She explained, “You can’t compare an offer you’re getting in the technology industry to your historical concept of an acceptable salary. That would be undervaluing your pay. Instead, you have to compare the salary you’re being offered with commensurate tech salaries in that same region.”

Veni agreed it was important to change how you think about salaries. “One piece of advice I’d give to the past me is to look more into the salary of a role.”

When she was growing up, Veni’s teachers taught her to be passionate about her job. She felt as though working for money was wrong. She ended up focusing on work that she felt passionate about but unfortunately didn’t pay well. Passion can be used as an excuse to underpay employees.

For her first few jobs, Veni didn’t negotiate salary because she didn’t realize that was acceptable or expected.

As her career advanced, she became more conscious about her compensation and learned that money didn’t need to be a taboo topic. She realized that it was okay to discuss money and advocate for fair compensation.

Today, Ali and Veni strongly believe that female coders should care about being fairly compensated for their work. It’s important to request a salary that is commensurate with the value you bring to a company.

Successful negotiation starts with changing how you think about salary and gaining an accurate understanding of the value you bring to a company. You have to get rid of the limiting beliefs that block you from seeing your worth. It’s important to remember that if you’re a woman, especially if you’re a woman of color, you’re not just negotiating for yourself. You’re negotiating for those who come after you.

Once you adopt the right mentality, you can move onto salary negotiation.

 

Negotiating your salary.

Ali and Veni shared some tips for approaching a conversation around salary:

  • Do your research ahead of time. The conversation about salary can be intimidating. Knowing the industry standards and having stats to back yourself up will be a huge confidence boost. Sites like fyi, Payscale, Stack Overflow, and Glassdoor are great resources. Women Who Code compiles anonymous salaries based on title, industry, and region. The hatch I.T. team also releases an annual compensation report examining salary trends for engineers in the DMV area.
  • Interview at multiple companies. Going through the interview process will give you a better idea of what companies are offering. If you receive multiple offers, you’ll be able to leverage them against one another to get a better salary.
  • Keep a log of your wins. Document the contributions you’ve made and how you’ve positively impacted previous teams or companies. This could involve positive feedback that you’ve received from clients, colleagues, or performance reviews. Have these numbers on hand during the conversation. It’s hard to argue with facts, so this information will be helpful when you’re requesting a certain number.
  • Be flexible. If a company can’t offer your ideal salary, ask probing questions to see if there are other areas where you can benefit. For example, you could negotiate for perks like a sign-on bonus, equity in the company, more time-off, and regular remote work. An open conversation might lead to added value that’s tailored to the preferences and priorities in your current season of life.
  • Don’t reveal your past salary. This is especially true if your current salary is well under your desired salary. Once a potential employer knows your future salary, they have the upper hand in salary negotiations. In fact, some businesses, and even state and local governments, have started to ban salary history questions.
  • Ask to respond to the salary question in writing. If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating salary over the phone or in person, you could opt to respond in writing. When an interviewer asks about your previous or desired salary, feel free to say you’ll get back to them. Answering in a written format allows you to process and research your answer before responding.

 

How companies can make the salary conversation approachable.

Companies have an important role to play in gender pay equality by setting an environment for transparent conversations.

Veni said it would be helpful for companies to be more open about their salary options. Transparency reduces pay gaps and increases trust. It also allows potential employees to gauge whether a role is a good fit for them.

She explained, “Without context around a company’s salary options, it’s very hard to go in and negotiate. You don’t even know if you should apply to this job because you don’t know if they’ll compensate you for your needs.”

Transparency in salary is also helpful for existing employees. They can better understand what the tiers are, where they land, and what their earning potential will be as they move to upper levels.

Ali said that she would like to see more companies publish anonymous information about the salaries of current employees. This can help companies make sure there’s no gender pay gap among their employees.

Ali also said she would like to see companies back away from asking about past salaries. Since salary offers are often based on previous compensation, salary history questions can be especially damaging to women and minorities who may already make less than they should.

Overall, responsibility lies with companies, as well as individuals, to change our mindsets about compensation and to advocate for wages that are based on an individual’s contribution.

INTERVIEWER: LAUREN ALEXANDER

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