April 14 is Equal Pay Day, highlighting a disturbing issue for millennial women in particular. A reported 60 percent of them are not negotiating for better salary or benefits. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Negotiation is the prime way that women of any age can make each day Equal Pay Day. For millennial women, negotiating is a critical skill for achieving autonomy and flexibility—two values particularly important to this generation.
Negotiating a First Job Offer
As a young adult trying to break into the tough world of sports representation, I had to negotiate to survive. Creativity is an asset, and I negotiated free rent from an Atlanta apartment complex in exchange for tennis lessons. That gave me some confidence to keep knocking on doors for a job as my money was running out.
I desperately wanted to work at Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta. Probably none of the NFL players aiming for the game were any more pumped as I was to be part of this event. I had applied for an office job, which meant answering the phone 400 times a day for the event chairman, former Atlanta Falcons coach Leeman Bennett. Here’s how the offer went down. “We’ll pay you $600 a month,” Bennett said, “and you’ll start next week.” “OK,” I replied, eager to get started with my dream of working in sports. Then the reality check set in. It may sound funny, but I had been so focused on getting the job that the pay had been secondary (sound familiar?). In my excitement, I’d accepted the job offer without hesitation. When I called Bennett back, I knew enough not to whine that $600 wasn’t enough to live on. I was smart enough to make a new offer. “That $600 salary you mentioned,” I said. “That’s per week, right?” It was a pretty good try for a kid like me, but I knew I had given up any leverage with my quick initial acceptance. We stayed at the original terms and it was a valuable lesson for me that I wouldn’t soon forget.
Lesson Learned: #ask4more
The story makes me smile today because picking up the phone and going to bat for myself was incredibly important rehearsal for the calls I would make later in my career as a sports agent on behalf of professional athletes, coaches, announcers—and myself. You have to have a kernel of belief in yourself to make the ask; you become confident with more experience and success, which comes with practice.
It’s even possible that you discover that negotiations can be fun and not a grind, and set you apart from your peers. Only 21 percent of respondents in a Levo survey say they negotiated their first job offer, and you’re leaving a lot of money on the table if you skip this step. A 2014 Wells Fargo study showed that the household income reported by millennial men averaged $77,000 compared with $56,000 for women—even though millennial women are graduating from college at a higher rate and that this starting point is when we should see the narrowest gap. As Levo CEO and co-founder Caroline Ghosn pointed out, millennial women who do not push for equal pay will experience the loss of more than $461,000 in average household income over our lifetimes. That is a conservative estimate; other experts say that gap can grow to $1 million.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
A job offer represents a starting point for your creativity. Negotiation is about offering choices that represent gains for both sides. No matter how many times you have seen friends struggle to get jobs, even jobs that are below their education levels, you can still negotiate. Negotiation skills are as important, maybe more so, than a warm and friendly demeanor that many women are expected to project. Firm assertiveness is a leadership quality that will set you apart. Practicing #ask4more now will pay dividends through the span of your career and to the next generations.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.