Talk your way to better pay

How women could keep up with rising IT salaries

One woman who has found negotiation invaluable in her career is Valerie Henson, a freelance Linux consultant who has previously held positions at IBM, and Intel's Open Source Technology Center.

In a LinuxChix presentation at this year, Henson outlined salary surveys that found that on average, women in Western countries make 70 per cent of what men do. She attributed what she called the "gender pay gap" to a failure to negotiate.

While some women choose not to negotiate their salary packages for fear of losing an amazing job, invalid assumptions of industry standards, a low estimate of self-worth, and fear of ruining relationships in the workplace, Henson said, the difference between accepting an offer of $25,000 a year and negotiating up to $30,000 a year has been calculated to result in a lifetime difference in earnings of over $300,000.

Henson recalls her first experience with negotiation, which she said was both successful and unsuccessful. After receiving an offer letter with a salary which she found "just barely avoided being insultingly low", Henson mentioned a higher salary to the hiring manager. While her negotiations did cause the hiring manager to raise the offer, Henson said that an over-eager tone of voice could have prevented her from negotiating an even better deal.

"I ended up signing an offer letter for $US10,000 more than the original offer, but $US10,000 less than what I could have gotten if I were a better negotiator," she said. "The best part is that it was my dream job and a 50% raise, and I would have taken the job for less than they offered."

Tone of voice and background research are paramount to negotiating a better salary, Henson advises. But the first, most vital step to a better salary could be simply the confidence to ask for it.

"Typically we do find male candidates, particularly at the senior end of the market, tend to be a little more aggressive in their negotiations and in asking for what they want," said Andrew Cross, Managing Director of Ambition Technology, noting that while he "has no doubt" there remain salary differences between men and women in IT, gender differences were not a focus of Ambition's salary survey.

With significant development projects occurring in the Banking and Finance sectors driving a strong demand for skills such as Java, JSP and .NET, employers desperate for additional headcount are becoming increasingly aware of the cost of re-recruitment and re-hire, and as a result are better equipped to manage counter-offers and salary increases to retain staff, he said.

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