Meet Brittany, a 37-year-old HR professional based in Canada. Having worked in both recruitment and HR for 15 years, Brittany is intimately familiar with all the ways there are to negotiate. But when she got the chance to negotiate for herself, the response she got caught her off guard and left her questioning whether she should ever negotiate again.
Here’s our conversation edited for length and clarity. Brittany is a pseudonym to protect her identity.
I’ve been in HR now since I was 22, so 15 years in various roles. As an HR professional you never go in with your first offer – that’s always been my experience.
I was at my previous role for about four years. I had done everything that I could do, gone as far as I could go. For the last three years that I was in the role I didn’t receive a pay increase.
So back in October, I talked to my leader. She’s like, “You’re doing a great job. Feedback is great”. I recently did a bunch of education, and she’s like, “We’re so proud. We’re so impressed, but we just don’t have budget right now. Just keep doing what you’re doing”.
That was the first time I truly advocated for myself at work. So it felt like a little bit of a punch in the gut.
And I was like, okay, time to look for something new. So I did.
I went through five rounds of interviews with a tech company out of Montreal. Loved the company, loved the people. All throughout the process, they were so excited for everything. I was so excited.
And of course we had the salary conversation. So I gave a dollar amount. I said, “This is what I’m looking for.” They came back and asked for a range. So I said, I could go lower depending on the total package. So they did make an offer.
It was incredibly low. Low compared to what I’d had in the past five or six years. It was low compared to the market. It was low compared to what I asked for.
And I was like, I don’t want to be in a position where I accept less than I’m worth and be stuck there knowing that I’m receiving less.
So I wrote this huge email and I reached out to my own network and said, “I need help with this email, help me put all of this together”. So I really outlined what I was excited for in the role, in the company. Referenced the interview process, various things we chatted about and said, “I’m really, really excited to come on board, but would you be willing to meet me in the middle at this amount?”
So that was on Tuesday. I didn’t hear anything from them for the rest of the week until four o’clock on Friday. They sent one line and just said, “We received your email. We’re reviewing it”. That was it. So I was nervous.
The following Tuesday, I received an email from them that said, “We discussed your email and there’s no room for negotiation at this time. We wish you the best in your future”.
“And good luck finding a job that will pay what you’re asking”.
My instant [reaction] was kind of another gut punch of like, “I can’t believe I asked for more. They must’ve thought I was so greedy. Was I overconfident?”
But then that last sentence, “Good luck finding somewhere that’s willing to pay,” I felt like I’d made a lucky escape.
My email was very, “Let’s discuss this further”. I made it very clear that I was going in with an offer and I fully expected a counteroffer back.
So for them to come back and say “No.” And not only “No”, but “It’s rescinded,” was a complete shock. [I felt] like I’d been slapped in the face.
I waited a day because I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to respond. I responded the next day and just said, thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck, and that’s all I said.
The day after that I received an offer from a different company I’d been interviewing with and they actually straight off the bat offered me everything I’d asked the other company for. So I got lucky.
But I just signed. I was like, I’m never going to do that again.
Honestly, I wish companies would just come in with their best offer, but we know they don’t. And again, being on the HR side of things, I’ve seen everything. There was room to negotiate with the role I’ve now accepted.
But even with that knowledge, because of what just happened back in November. I don’t know if I will negotiate again. I really don’t.
Instead of employers asking your salary expectations, I think it needs to be, “This is the range for this role”. And have that conversation of, “If I feel I fit at the higher end of that role, What do you need? Like, what do you require? Is there a certain level of education experience, et cetera, in order to get to that level? If I’m hired for the role, what’s the progression to get to that higher level?”
But I think it needs to be clear on the employer side – this role pays between this and this. So you know going in, you’re at least gonna get the bottom of that range, versus you having to state your range. I think it’s the transparency on the employer side.
I will say this was another hit to my confidence and I truly, truly believe that if I was male, that would not have happened. And that is the most frustrating part. We’re in 2022 and this is still how I feel, and how many people feel.
Sadly, Brittany’s experience is borne out in the data. Women who negotiate are more likely to be labeled aggressive and demanding, are less likely than their male counterparts to actually get the raises and promotions they’ve requested, and are more likely to be penalized [by having an offer rescinded, for example] just for asking. To read more about the research behind this gendered response, check out: This Is the Price Women Pay For Wanting More.
Note from the editor: The ambition diaries are a collection of interviews with women who’ve experienced the ambition penalty. The ambition penalty speaks to the paradox at the heart of women’s empowerment. To close gender gaps in pay, wealth and leadership, women have been directed to “speak up, negotiate more, and take what they deserve” — overlooking how women are often penalized for doing those very things.
The ambition penalty helps explain why decades of educational gains and a lifetime of “empowerment” haven’t translated into corresponding gains for women in the workforce, in wealth or in leadership. Because it’s not that women aren’t negotiating or speaking up or working to get what they deserve, it’s that they’re doing so within a network of institutions that undermine and penalize them when they do. And it’s these conditions, not the behavior of women, that need more of our attention if we want to make meaningful progress on measures of equity.
If you have a similar experience of the ambition penalty playing out in your own life – let us know in the comments or share with someone who can relate.
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