Over and over during my career, I have been told the reason I wasn’t being paid what I was worth was because I didn’t have the confidence to ask. Just ask, I was told. You’re worth it.

It’s not just me. I’ve seen this messaging go out to women across the field, in well-meaning but misguided posts essentially blaming women for being bad negotiators, saying, “well, you’d have the equity you wanted, if you’d just do a better job of sticking up for yourself.”

And while it is true that women do negotiate less than men, it’s also incredibly over simplistic to say the answer is, “Well, dear lady, you just need to start asking.”

I tried that.

In multiple high stakes offers, I sought out the advice of two highly experienced people I respect- one in this field, one in the field of technology. They were well acquainted with my skill set, and gave me specific advice on what to counter-offer, and how. I followed their advice to a T.

And in both cases, the other side walked away. No counter offer, no “let’s discuss this,” just….nope. Bye bish. In other words: the audacity.

In both situations, these men who know, like, and value me, were utterly perplexed. To quote one: “That should have worked.”

The end message after a few rounds of this is consistent: be happy with what you are offered. Take a little less, and move on. When it compounds over time, you learn to lower your expectations- not because you don’t know your worth, but because when you hold it and ask for it, you’re shut down. It’s impossible for this not to wear on you over time. ≈

I was really starting to wonder if I was living in the twilight zone, or if I really did suffer from some incredibly over inflated sense of self-worth, but the research confirms this: negotiation just doesn’t work the same way for women. The audacity of the ask penalty exists.

Whenever this topic comes up, there’s always a corner that assumes this is meant as a broad condemnation of men, and nothing could be further from the truth. One, the people with whom I am negotiating are both women and men. Second, the people advising me on my own value were both experienced, trusted men who always had my back. It’s not women vs men, or about individuals at all.

In order for this conversation to work, we need to get out of our heads about the individual blame game and think of this more in systemic terms. This is the environment. This is what is happening. You aren’t dreaming it.

So now what?

The reality is, yes, we need to negotiate, but in order to not want to crawl into a hole it would be nice to have some tips and tools to actually make those negotiations successful. I am really happy to see organizations like the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative lead the way on this, because I’ll be the first in line for some hot tips. Help!

In the meantime, I’m practicing and learning as I go. I’m reminding myself not to take things personally when I get a, “you want HOW much?” in response to what I know is a good offer. I reach out to my friends in the same boat as me, and we work through it together because we’ve let go of the stigma surrounding money talk that leaves so many women feeling isolated and unsure of themselves.

Taking Margaret Neale’s advice, I do my research before making a proposal so if it is declined, I can clearly explain the value and reasoning (I wish this weren’t such a common task, but it is what it is.) If they still say no, I can accept a lower offer if I want- there’s no shame in that, if it is something you really do want- or walk away.

I’m still learning as I go, even now, so stick around if this is something you care about too. I’m going to share whatever resources I come across because…(ahem) while you know you’re worth it, I want everyone else to see it too.

Who to Follow:

Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development InitiativeDr. Laura Pletz– Working tirelessly to bring these issues to the forefront and elevate women on the daily
Dr. Lisa Greenhill– The foremost authority on institutional research and diversity. Her podcast is a must-listen.
Dr. Matt Salois Economics guru from AVMA- sharing impactful data on the daily at LinkedIn
Dr. Samantha Morello– Who somehow, in the middle of being a large animal surgeon, also found the time to publish research on this topic
Dr. Mia Cary– a magical unicorn we don’t deserve
Danielle Lambert– A force of nature for all women in vet med- DVMs and beyond

There are many more- share who needs to be on the list!