Professional Development

Are Women ODs Up Against More When Negotiating?

By Jennifer Lyerly, OD

May 30, 2018

Job negotiations can be grueling for anyone, but new research suggests they may be more grueling for women. After my own challenging experiences, I learned to re-set how I think about, and approach, negotiating.

The Pay Gap & “Social Cost” Phenomenon
For decades researchers have been closely studying the wage gap across all professions, and time and again, the fact that women tend not to negotiate their first offer is cited as the leading contributor to the gap. Even recent surveys show this trend holds true: a 2016 survey by GlassDoor reports 15 percent of men negotiated the first offer in their current job, compared to only 4 percent of women. The take-home message of these studies has been that if we want to close the salary gap, women need to stop accepting the first offer they get, and negotiate for more.

Unfortunately, studies also show it’s not nearly that simple. Negotiating for more comes with a price, and women who negotiate for higher salaries are judged more harshly than their male colleagues who do the same. This phenomenon is called the “social cost” of negotiation.

A 2005 study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision-Making Processes looked at four experiments where men and women negotiated job offers, and study participants were asked to give feedback on the candidates. All four experiments found that people penalized women who initiated negotiations for higher salary more so than men who did the same.

Whether the negotiation was done in person, or read from a piece of paper, women were judged more harshly no matter the delivery method of their negotiation. Participants cited that they would be less willing to work with women who negotiated for higher salary across the board as co-workers, subordinates or bosses.

Click HERE, or the image above, to read more in Women in Optometry about overcoming the challenges of job negotiations.

Fear of Being Perceived Badly If Asking for More Pay
Early in my career, in the process of countering an offer, I was told by the person I was negotiating with that they were disappointed, that they thought “I wasn’t about the money.” It was clear feedback that by negotiating on pay, I was also influencing their opinion of me as a person – something I hadn’t expected, or intended in the least.

That feedback often scares young women off from wanting to continue a negotiation, or from trying it again in the future. It could have set me back for years from wanting to negotiate again, which is why I became so passionate about researching and writing about female negotiation strategies on my blog, Eyedolatry.

4 Things You Can Do to Persevere in Negotiations
BE PREPARED. Always present evidence and support around the salary you are requesting. Show what you bring to a practice that will benefit patients, and create additional revenue streams. Use industry studies for average salaries in your geography. Network, and seek the advice of mentors and colleagues on fair-market pay. If you have previous work experience, share numbers pertinent to your worth like average revenue per patient, and your eyewear and contact lens capture rates, to support and defend the salary you are requesting.

SHOW YOU BRING MORE TO THE TABLE THAN AVERAGE. Think of the first offer as the pay for an “average” candidate. What do you bring to the table above and beyond the average OD? That extra value-add you are bringing is what defends your ask of additional reimbursement. Think about specialty areas of practice, or skill-sets that you have that would grow your employer’s practice and patient base, and focus on the monetary return and value that those skills will provide. In the business world they call this your “unique value proposition.”

ASK FOR PRODUCTION INCENTIVES. Production bonuses, where you make more money as a percentage of what you bring in for the practice, is a great way to prove to your employer that you are invested in building their practice. You make more, when they make more.

NEGOTIATE FOR MORE THAN JUST MONEY. Studies show the women who negotiate specifically for higher salary during the negotiation bear the brunt of the negative social cost. So, asking for coverage of optometric society dues or continuing education, or paid days to attend lectures or conferences, is a great way to allay the negative repercussions of asking for money, while at the same time increasing the value of the package you are negotiating.

What To Do When You Try & It Doesn’t Go Your Way
If, despite your best efforts, you are given an offer that you consider to be offensively low, the first step is to avoid an emotional reaction. A low salary offer is not personal, as much as it feels that way. It doesn’t mean your employer doesn’t value you as a doctor or as a colleague. This is business after all. Instead, prepare your counter offer with a focus on the value that you bring to their practice–what you can do to help them better serve patients and grow their patient base and profitability.

For example, let’s say you were offered $100,000 annually, but your market research shows that the average full-time salary in your area for an optometrist is $120,000 annually. To negotiate for that additional $20,000, outline the added financial value that you can provide that is worth that amount of reimbursement.

Avoid phrases like “I want,” “I need” or “I deserve.” Always negotiate from the place of what you can do to add value to the business. Focus on additional patients or services you will bring to the practice, and have data to support that ask.


Jennifer Lyerly, OD, is an associate at Triangle Visions Optometry in Cary, N.C. To contact her:

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