Skip to main content



Asking for a pay raise: Women need to negotiate differently

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, many women are still being paid less than men. By negotiating better — and differently — women can start to overcome the gap and get paid more.

Asking for a pay raise: Women need to negotiate differently

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, many women are still being paid less than men.

By negotiating better — and differently — women can start to overcome the gap and get paid more. 


That difference in annual pay between women and men is striking, and it has a big impact annually as well as over a lifetime.

A 2019 report by salary review website Glassdoor said that over the past three years, women earned about 12 per cent less than men in Singapore.

Whereas the annual base pay for men was S$71,631, women earned S$61,653 — or S$9,978 less.

Even after researchers used statistical controls to compare workers with the same characteristics, such as age and job title, there was still a gap of 5 per cent.

While 60 per cent of the gap is due to differences in experience and job categories, Glassdoor said that 40 per cent is due to how the labour market rewards men and women differently.

The Ministry of Manpower found an even greater gap of 16 per cent in 2018, and a gap of 6 per cent when differences such as age, education and industry were stripped away, 

While the annual difference seems large enough, the longer-term impact is even greater. Professor Linda Babcock from Carnegie Mellon University in the United States says that by not negotiating their salary at the beginning of their career, women have between US$1 million (S$1.39 million) and US$1.5 million in lost earnings over their lifetime. 


A key reason women earn less, Prof Babcock found, is that people expect women to work for less. And even if a woman does negotiate for higher pay, she often gets pushback. Whereas a man asking for more money is seen as having a legitimate right to do so, many people have a negative reaction to women who are assertive.

An even more fundamental issue, though, is that a majority of women don’t even negotiate for a higher salary or ask for too little.

While research here is limited, a survey by recruitment firm Randstad showed that 60 per cent of women in the US say they have never negotiated with an employer over pay.  Research by Prof Babcock found an even larger gap, with only 7 per cent of women saying they negotiated their first salary, compared to 57 per cent of men.

That lack of negotiation has a huge impact, as research shows that employees who negotiate their salary can boost their annual pay by US$5,000 or more.

Moreover, research in the US by Dr Michelle Marks, vice-president for academic innovation at George Mason University, and Dr Crystal Harold, associate professor in human resource management at Temple University, found that women who do ask for higher compensation make smaller requests than equally qualified men.

Women who ask for more often seek what they think is a realistic target rather than a higher amount and end up getting less than they could.    


It might seem like women simply need to negotiate more often and use classic tactics — do research to know what your role is worth, for example, and be able to show your skills and the value you deliver to the company.

The issue is deeper, though, and requires a different approach. Women need to negotiate differently.

One technique is to create a relationship with the person negotiating for the company — by being friendly and showing concern for workmates, rather than seeing the negotiations as simply another task.

Prof Babcock and Dr Bowles suggest that women who explain why a compensation request is legitimate in relational terms can improve their social and negotiation outcomes.

That relational style makes women more likable and influential in negotiations, which makes their compensation requests seem more legitimate and increases the company’s willingness to grant them.

Another is to use implicit behaviours such as speaking simply yet directly and using expansive body language rather than being very demanding or strongly advocating for a position.

Expansive body language conveys an openness and warmth: For instance, being more expressive, keeping your palms or wrists turned up, holding or stretching your arms out across the table and not crossing your arms or legs.

When Associate Professor Melissa Williams of Emory University in the US and Stanford University’s senior associate dean Larissa Tiedens analysed 63 studies that evaluated individual behaviour, they found that people react more negatively to women who use explicit behaviours such as strong verbal demands and very assertive body language than they do to men who do the same things.

There are also a variety of ways to learn how to negotiate better.

One is to take courses in negotiation.

Online education provider Coursera, for example, offers a course called Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator, and the eCornell website offers one called Women in Leadership: Negotiation Skills.

Another is to use Prof Babcock’s classic book, Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation – and Positive Strategies for Change, which explains how to negotiate better. While biases in the workplace may still make it harder for women to get a salary equal to men, there are ways to make up the gap.

Rather than just using standard negotiating tactics, women can do better if they use different tactics that help overcome the biases that hold them back. 

Related topics

wage gap negotiation salary women job

Read more of the latest in



Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.