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Salary Negotiation For Women: Ask The Expert

InformationWeek salary survey data shows the gender pay gap remains alive and well in IT. One reason: Women walk a tricky tightrope during the negotiation process.

Do you fear you bring home less money than the guy in the office next door? If you're a female IT executive, you're probably right. In our 2014 InformationWeek US IT salary survey, the difference for male and female IT executives spoke for itself: Median total compensation for male IT executives is $25,000 higher than for female execs, according to our data. Male VPs of IT -- a crucial "lieutenant" role on the career path to CIO -- report earning a median base salary of $139,000 -- while females in that role report a median of $125,000.

What are we doing wrong, ladies?

As my mother loves to say, "If you don't ask for it, you won't get it." But the act of asking for more in itself is fraught with complications for women, says Joan C. Williams, distinguished professor and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California's Hastings College of the Law, and author of eight books, including What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Every Woman Should Know (NYU Press, 2014).

"If I hear once more that the reason for the wage gap is that women don't negotiate, I may just blow a gasket," she wrote, in an eye-opening column on salary strategies.

"Women don't negotiate because they're not idiots," she wrote.

Williams will be my guest on InformationWeek Radio to share her knowledge -- and take your questions. Join us for Salary Negotiation For Women: Get What You Deserve, Tuesday, July 22 at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT). Register now.

Williams' point about women not being idiots: Some of those times you kept your mouth shut, at annual review/raise time, or as you accepted a new job, you were right. You used your emotional IQ, your intellect, your research, and your knowledge of the personalities involved to decide that asking for more would likely backfire.

You were up against what Williams calls the "tightrope" of masculinity and femininity. Be perceived as too masculine, and you're bitchy. Be perceived as too feminine, and you're not aggressive and effective enough.

There's no perfect mix of masculine and feminine. Every boss and coworker you have may think a different balance of the two is "normal."

Sounding familiar? Women walk this tightrope in all sorts of professional situations -- from speaking up in meetings to tooting your own horn up the chain of command.

I wrote about it with regard to a high-profile project I led. I wrestled with what degree of worry I could show. Too much, and I'm branded a Nervous Nellie. Not enough, and I'm branded incompetent. I finally embraced the fact that no one would think I was Chicken Little for having legitimate worries about project issues. After all, the men did, too.

This tightrope dynamic especially factors into hiring and salary negotiations, Williams says. Studies show women get penalized more often than men do when asking for more money. But you can use strategies to try and stay in balance. So let's take how you handle negotiations to the next level.

In our online broadcast July 22, Williams and I will discuss classic mistakes to avoid in negotiations, whether women wait too long to try for the next promotion -- and how to be assertive at work without being labeled the dreaded word that rhymes with witch. Bring your experience and your problems.

With regard to walking the tightrope, I see reason for optimism for women in IT. In the past year, I have met a growing number of female CIOs and IT leaders who simply will not downplay being women. I listened to Dell CIO Adriana Karaboutis declare: "Get out of your own way" and advise women to reach sooner for that next career step.

I watched the day vanish when all professional IT women wore boxy grey or brown suits. When I moderate panels on female IT leadership these days, the participants wear bright blue, brilliant yellow -- even pink.

I just ran a column by Daria Hutchinson, a woman in a leadership role at big data company Platfora, that proved a hit with our readers: How To Explain Big Data To A Fifth Grader. One of the cool things to me about the article: She included a photo of her with her daughter. When I reported on the microprocessor and PC industry in the 1990s, I was lucky to meet female execs at all. And if I did, they never even hinted at being moms. That would be leaning too far on the feminine side of the tightrope.

I see women inside and outside IT leading by example, walking the tightrope with bravery and grace.

Let's keep sharing what we learn on that walk. Register now to join me for the Salary Negotiation radio show with Joan C. Williams.

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