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For women, negotiating pay is often overlooked key to success

It’s always a good time to contemplate your pay, especially if you’re a job-hunting woman in the U.S.

But negotiating pay isn’t always a strong point for women, according to Mary Riddel, professor of economics and graduate coordinator at UNLV and co-chair of UNLV Women’s Council. Yet, from the outset, that skill has a big impact on a woman’s career.

“You establish that base pay from those first negotiations,” she said. “And if you don’t drive a hard bargain, it will haunt you for the rest of your working career.”

Las Vegas women: 87 cents for each male-earned dollar

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, American women make approximately 84 percent of what their male counterparts earn. The National Partnership for Women & Families pegs the figures at 79 cents earned by women for every male-earned dollar, citing information supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the Las Vegas Valley, the numbers improve, some say due to the negotiating power of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. Las Vegas women earn 87 cents for each male-earned dollar, according to the National Partnership’s figures. In Clark County, it’s 85 cents to every dollar.

The lower wages still hit families headed by women hard — nearly one quarter of all family households in Las Vegas and more than 20 percent of all family households in Clark County. The gap widens even more for women of color.

Although lower-paying jobs taken by women may account for half of that gap, according to Riddel, more recent research indicates that negotiation — or lack of it — may be a culprit.

Among the keys to negotiation, she said: understanding what your skills are and why you’re unique.

Valley not always negotiation-friendly place for women

The valley — with its high concentration of lower-skilled workers and fewer college graduates compared to other states — may not always be a negotiation-friendly environment, Riddel added, unless you’re a member of the Culinary Union.

“You typically think of negotiating for pay in a management position or a higher level college degree-required position,” she said.

If there’s potential to negotiate, then it’s time to “stretch,” according to Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president of Government Relations & Corporate Social Responsibility at Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Jones Blackhurst was Las Vegas’ first female mayor.

“There’s actually statistics to prove this — a man reads a job description, and even if he doesn’t meet all of the qualifications, he’s more likely to apply for a job than a woman in the same situation,” she said. “Women are more exact. When it comes to pay, they’re a little more hesitant.”

When people questioned her decision to run for office because she had no background in politics, she recalled, “I thought they were wrong.”

Her advice: “Sometimes you have to think more broadly around skill sets and qualifications. Then go in and sell yourself.”

Nasty stereotypes about women and self-promotion can also hinder the negotiation process, said Robbyn Tolles, facilitator of the American Association of University Women’s Start Smart salary negotiation workshop.

The program, offered through AAUW, targets college graduates about to enter the job market. It’s been open to men, along with women, in Reno, but not yet in Las Vegas.

“Men are seen as go-getters and promote themselves freely,” Tolles said. “Women can be seen in a very negative way if they do that. It’s not just by other men. It’s by women, too.”

Skills learned can sometimes outweigh pay

The balm amid the stereotypes is “EQ,” an intuitive, people-centric skill that women may find more of in their business toolbox, observed Jones Blackhurst.

“They tend to read a room better,” she said. “Women with that higher EQ are going to be better recruiters. They’re going to be better managers. And they’re going to be better at retaining top talent.”

She also recommends looking at the bigger picture. Early in her own career, that meant taking a pay cut — trading in a $180-a-night cocktail waitress job in San Francisco for a job in management that paid $250 a week.

“I knew I’d learn skills that would advance me,” she said.

Gathering information about a potential job is also critical, according to Tolles.

The Start Smart program emphasizes maneuvering online resources such as salary.com for salary ranges. There’s also the art of negotiating benefits, understanding their value, and role playing. Plus, the task of figuring out what you can live on and if a salary range is realistic in a given city.

As for job applications that call for your “salary requirements,” leave that space blank, advised Tolles. Or write “negotiable.” Or write your salary range.

And, Riddel advised, wait for the potential employer to make an offer first. Then write a list of your skills, offer information on pay for similar positions and make a counter offer.

“It’s very important to not just take that first number but actually give a counter offer,” she added.

But prepare to explain why you need the higher salary. Then lay out what you’ll give in return, and don’t let the emotion of desperation affect the negotiation.

“Ask for what you’re worth,” Jones Blackhurst said. “And if the company doesn’t value you, go find a company that does.”

Whatever the job, connect with women fighting for equal pay, advised Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary treasurer of the Culinary Union. “Because that’s the right thing to do for this country.”

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