Savvy Negotiating Might Help Nurses Bridge Gender Salary Gap

Share with your friends

Share on Pinterest

Nurse shaking handsWith American women’s salaries still barely 75 percent what men make in comparable jobs, even female nurses, who represent 93 percent of the profession, are still making more than $5,000 per year less than male nurses, according to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Theories and opinions about the causes of these imbalances vary.

The solution?

Probably a collective effort to negotiate more frequently, as well as more effectively. That’s what many nurses are saying in the wake of the JAMA report. That solution may simply be a reform of women’s attitudes toward what negotiation entails.

Gender wage gap

The gender-gap report, which involved a survey of nearly 88,000 participants over two decades, and another that traced 206,000 registered nurses from 2001 to 2013, stressed that the gap is actually higher than $5,000, but they made statistical adjustments for experience, education, work hours, clinical specialty, and marital and parental status that lowered the figure to $5,100.

Each of those adjusted factors is often cited as why gender inequity exists in nursing pay.

Also cited is the allegation that women — who are four times less likely than men to negotiate at all — accept compensation information at face value and simply don’t negotiate as ably as men.

Effective negotiation skills

It may not be true. By some accounts women are as effective as men when they negotiate on behalf of other women or men, but are less effective, or at least are seen in a poorer light, when they negotiate for themselves.

That perception is all the more reason that a collaborative approach to negotiation might serve women better than the adversarial attitude that colors most people’s perception of negotiation.

Harvard University researcher Hannah Riley Bowles writes about Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s relational negotiating strategy in a Harvard Business Review article. Sandberg states up-front with the other party why she’s negotiating, and also points out that she’s “on the same team” saying, “This is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.”

Research by Bowles and Lisa Babcock, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, supports a positive outcome when a woman explains why she is negotiating and her concern for organizational relationships.

The concept that the negotiators are vying for a percentage of a pie is common to negotiation strategy talk, but poor negotiators often assume erroneously that the size of the pie is finite, says Jeff Weiss, the author of the “HBR Guide to Negotiating.”

That’s one reason negotiating and haggling are not the same thing, says Weiss, who also outlines strategies for collaborative talks.

“People assume they need to make a choice between getting good results (by being hard and bargaining at all costs) or developing a good relationship (by being soft and making concessions to build the relationship),” Weiss writes. He calls that “positional bargaining” and complains that it perpetuates an attitude that negotiating is a zero-sum game.

That tends to create acrimony, whereas a collaborative approach creates harmony.

There are a couple of ways to add to the rapport that many people do routinely — except when they’re negotiating.

The talks may never lead to a handshake deal if there isn’t a handshake at the outset, says Harvard University Professor Francesca Gina. She says studies have confirmed that a strong handshake with direct eye contact helps gain the other negotiator’s confidence and even “higher ratings of employment suitability in job interviews,” and that furthermore even watching others shake hands spreads rapport.

Finding seemingly mundane things in common, such as hometowns or mutual friends, anything that meshes personal histories, also is more effective than might be supposed, says David DiSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University.

And University of Michigan Professor Shirli Kopelman says most people employ different personas in different situations and the nurse persona may be a less effective negotiator than the persona who runs the church bazaar, or even the family home.

This is known as the Inside-Out approach. Some may find that phony, Kopelman says, but she insists that combining the multiple personas compounds the personal strength you project as a result.

It’s not all about you, though. Knowing that the pie is probably not finite, it helps, therefore, to know what assets and limitations the other negotiator brings to the table, and be able to emphasize how you’re equipped to help.

“The concept that the negotiators are vying for a percentage of a pie is common to negotiation strategy talk, but poor negotiators often assume erroneously that the size of the pie is finite.”
– Jeff Weiss, author of the “HBR Guide to Negotiating”

Negotiating salary and benefits

It’s easy to forget that the company negotiator “wants to hire you, has received buy-in from other team members and has no desire to keep interviewing,” wrote Rebecca Healy in U.S. News & World Report. “More than anything, she is anxious for you to start work.”

Your starting date could be a possible bargaining chip. More than one expert said being able to start quickly might offset hesitation to pay you more than anticipated, and others pointed out that concessions on salary may help the new employee gain more and earlier vacation time and other side benefits.

Using collaborative techniques may seem soft, but they don’t preclude some of the traditional advice for playing hardball.

These include:

  • Know your market value.
  • Make the prospective boss name the first salary figure.
  • If you can’t avoid stating a salary range, name a range that’s low enough to keep you in the running but includes what you’re really looking for or requiring.
  • Don’t accept the first offer.
  • Be prepared to make a counteroffer.
  • Negotiate beyond base pay.
  • Show how hiring you at a higher salary than they intended can more than even out when your expertise on the job saves them money.
  • But above all, don’t be afraid to seem assertive. Experts seem to agree that most prospective employers would consider an able negotiator an asset to the company, and they won’t lose sight of that.

“Ideally, both parties in a negotiation should come away from the table feeling that they’ve won,” says blogger Margaret Buj, on

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

Back to: Careers & Credentials