Talk your way to better pay

How women could keep up with rising IT salaries
  • Liz Tay (Computerworld)
  • 25 June, 2007 11:51

IT salaries have been on a steady incline during the past year. While analysts and industry groups tout a nationwide shortage of suitably skilled candidates, a resource boom and widespread uptake of technology is driving the job market up and up.

A winter 2007 Market Trends and Salaries Report by recruitment agency Ambition Technology boasts that salaries have grown ten per cent from May 2006. But women in IT still could be losing out on the monetary perks of a candidate-short market, according to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).

"Women employees across the Australian economy earn just 83 cents for every dollar their male counterpart earns," explained AIIA's Chief Executive Officer, Sheryle Moon, "so clearly, women can benefit from enhanced skills to enable them to negotiate salary packages and working conditions."

To address what it views as an issue that could be restricting women's job opportunities in IT, the AIIA has launched the "Set Up for Success" workshop series, designed to enable women to overcome barriers to negotiating suitable work arrangements in a male-dominated working environment.

Presenting at the AIIA workshop is Candy Tymson, business coach and author of the book "Gender Games: Doing Business with the Opposite Sex". Tymson attributed a bulk of women's workplace disadvantages to an overly modest "feminine" approach to business.

"Women ask me often, 'I am just as good as the men, I work just as hard as they do; why do they get promoted when I don't?'," Tymson said.

"One of the things that have come out of my research is that first of all, a majority of women frankly don't know how to promote themselves. Whereas men have typically been encouraged to boast more, stand up for themselves and tell people what they're capable of, women in the past have been told not to do that, or they'll look bossy."

Citing her own research, as well as scientific studies by the Myers-Briggs Foundation and psychologist Helena Cornelius, Tymson said that women have a genetic and cultural predisposition to build rapport in business.

The focus on interpersonal relationships could also mean that women are more wary of appearing like they are boasting, or looking bossy, Tymson said, so the challenge for women is to effectively promote themselves in a way that they are comfortable with, and that still comes across as feminine.

"Brain research is clearly showing major differences in the way male and female brains work," she said. "Typically, women focus on the relationship, and men focus on the information."

"Women are in a bit of a dilemma really, as to how to behave. What I find really works - and men have told me this too - is if the women treat the males as their peers, but don't try and prove that they're better than them," she said.

Unnecessary modesty could be detrimental to women's careers and remuneration, Tymson said. Instead of running themselves down with typically feminine phrases like "what do you think", Tymson suggests women take a more active role in negotiating their workplace agreements.

"The key with salaries, whether you're male or female, is that you need to demonstrate your value. Women often fail in promoting their value to the organisation, and let the organisation know what they're achieving," she said.

"If you don't ask, you don't get. I think a lot of it [negotiation] is making sure you know what your rights are, and standing up for yourself and asking for them."

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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.