IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Leveling The Equal Pay Field: Negotiating While Black

We spoke to five career strategists about how to navigate negotiating as a woman of color.
Workers protest growing wage inequality.
Workers protest growing wage inequality.Boston Globe / Getty Images

Women continue to make less than men, but the gap in equal pay is wider for women of color.

If the wage gap keeps narrowing at the pace it has been the last 50 years, Black women will not catch up to white men until the year 2124 (that's 107 years from now), Hispanics until 2248, and white women until 2056 according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women make up 57 percent of the work force. The Department of Labor reports women working full time made 79.6 percent of men’s earnings in 2015, or 79.6 cents of every dollar a white man made — an increase of 19.4 percent compared to 1980.

Jacquette M. Timmons, financial behaviorist and author of "Financial Intimacy" says Black women need to speak up to get what they want.

“One of the biggest mistakes you can make is having the mindset that you don’t deserve to ask. Make sure you come into it with a lot of confidence; you have the right to ask.”

In 2016, Black women made $641 a week compared to white women who made $766, and made nearly $300 less than White men (they made $942) according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Although women continue to make less than men, progress has been made. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that from 2015-2016, weekly earnings among Black women increased 2.9 percent, Hispanic women saw an increase of 2.2 percent, and white women 1.18 percent.

We spoke to five career strategists about how to navigate negotiating as a woman of color.

Jacquette M. Timmons, financial behaviorist and author of "Financial Intimacy"
Image: Jacquette M. Timmons
Jacquette M. Timmons, financial behaviorist and author of "Financial Intimacy".FREDERICK NIELSEN / Jacquette M. Timmons

What is the most important thing to consider when negotiating as a woman of color?

We accept what is initially offered without asking for more. Just ask! If you are in a position to do it on the front end, that’s a more ideal situation to be in. If you have already accepted a position and you realize you may have left some money on the table because you didn’t ask, then build a business case for it.

Look at yourself as if you were a business, look at yourself if you are an entrepreneur building a business. You need to be able to document what value you have brought to the table on the different projects you’ve worked on and what has been your contribution. Use that as a way and leverage of getting you more money.

It’s not ‘I ABC person, deserves to get more money’, it’s ‘I ABC person have done these things to help our business or help or department or unit grow in a particular way.’ It’s because I contributed to the goals of this unit, that’s why I deserve this raise.

What are 'Do’s' and 'Don’ts' when negotiating pay? What are pitfalls should one avoid?

Make sure you are managing in a 360 degree way. That means you’re managing the relationship with the person you directly report to and you’re making the pitch for you to get the raise and bonus. It is part of your job to manage across peers and to manage in other business units.

Don’t just live in your cocoon, what is that you do functionally? Make sure you’re cultivating relationships outside, so people get together to have those round robin conversations about the budget you can make sure there’s more than one person in that room who can speak highly of you and fight for you. That cannot happen if the only person advocating for you at that table is the person you for work directly.

Make sure all of the girls you’re hanging out with are indeed negotiating for their salaries. Because if everybody starts to do it then we will create this snowball effect and this snowball impact of more people doing it and more people getting comfortable with it.

Even if you’re not comfortable with it, do it anyway. Do it in the midst of being uncomfortable. Don’t keep this practice to yourself, encourage one another to do this. Even role play, role playing can be really helpful.

How do you approach negotiating as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, usually the negotiating comes into play when someone wants to pay less than the price you quoted. Two common practices are to: (1) take something "off" the table if you do lower your price - so that you aren't providing the same product/service for a lower price. (2) stick with your original quoted price, but offer a payment plan.

How should my negotiation strategies change throughout my career?

Ask for more. The book, “Getting To Yes” is a wonderful reminder of the difference between women who don’t ask and men that do, even as the man is just as unqualified and just coming out of college as well. The advice to that young Black woman is to ask, it does not matter if you don’t have the experience ask for more anyway because it’s a negotiation.

So if they offer you ten as an example, you ask for 15. If they say no, then ask, “What can you do?” So now they know you’re asking for more and they know they at least have to come above the ten.

You can also figure out, “well what else can I negotiate?” Can you negotiate to having three weeks off instead of two weeks off a year? We often think about negotiating in hard dollars but what are some other things you value that you would want as a replacement. An easy one is more vacation time.

Minda Harts, Founder and CEO of The Memo
Image: Minda Harts
Minda Harts, Founder & CEO of The Memo.Minda Harts

What is the most important thing to consider when negotiating as a woman of color?

As woman of color we should always be prepared! First research, research, research! Before you engage in a conversation regarding salary with your manager, make sure you have researched the current market value of your position and/or desired position, and can provide documentation to back up your request for an increase.

One tool we recommend during our career boot camps for women of color at The Memo is Get Raised. This online tool helps women research their market value and generates a letter one can give to their manager. Additionally, document your wins throughout the year, this is a good time to remind your employer that you are a great asset to the companies bottom line. You are your best advocate!

What are 'Do’s' and 'Don’ts' when negotiating pay? What are pitfalls should one avoid?

Not asking is not an option! Women of color make less than 77 cents on a dollar. If we don't ask for more, we are selling ourselves short. You must know your worth or no one else will. Remember, have a number and/or percent in mind; you can negotiate more effectively when you work from your target number. Remember it's called Salary Negotiation for a reason!

How do you approach negotiating as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, I am constantly negotiating. I must come prepared to every investor meeting and know what my company is worth. If I don't know my business in and out, I could miss out on a potential investment opportunity or give too much of my company away. Being prepared and doing your homework is key!

How should my negotiation strategies change throughout my career?

Many women early in their careers feel they don't have enough experience, so they don't negotiate their first salaries, in fear of not rocking the boat. Negotiation is part of the hiring process, many hiring managers are expecting you to negotiate. When you don't they walk away with the money you didn't fight for.

Women of color in their mid-to late career should continue to strive for more. I would encourage frequent conversations with your manager about your performance and opportunities for upward mobility. Don't be afraid to apply for new positions within your company that pay more. And don't be afraid to look for opportunities outside of your company that will position you closer to your desired salary.

Sherry Sims, Founder and CEO of Black Career Women's Network
Image: Sherry Sims
Sherry Sims, Founder and CEO of Black Career Women's Network.Sherry Sims

What is the most important thing to consider when negotiating as a woman of color?

You must be completely prepared and confident.

What are your "Do’s and Don’ts" of negotiating?


Always do your research! Know your market value and make a strong case to show your worth. If asked, what is your salary range, give them the range you want based on your research and what you need to live based on cost of living in your city. Be realistic.


Don't be intimated by the process and keep your emotions in check. Don't accept the first offer unless it's exactly what you want. However, make sure to research other benefits and perks prior to accepting and try not to be demanding, forceful or arrogant when you counteroffer. It'll cost you the job.

You should avoid disclosing your past salary history. Most managers or recruiters want to see this to make sure they are offering a salary based on previous employers market rate and making sure you are not inflating your salary. Either way is not good practice for you or the employer. You also want to avoid getting too personal about why you are making a counter offer.

How do you approach negotiating as an entrepreneur?

You need to have clear and concise communication with whom you are looking to partner or do business with. Get your partnership or project terms in writing. Establish the terms upfront, make sure you both agree then have it put into an agreement and have your attorney review it for legal purposes.

How should my negotiation strategies change throughout my career?

The biggest strategies an early career woman can have is confidence, supportive mentors, sponsors and an influential network. Those can put her on the fast track to career success very early in her career by learning what to avoid, what to do the right way and how to present herself as a young BOSS!

Dominique Broadway, Founder of Finances De•mys•ti•fied & The Social Money Tour

Image: Dominique Broadway
Dominique Broadway

What is the most important thing to consider when negotiating as a woman of color?

Be very clear about why you're asking for more. Have your bullets ready to go, for example, I deserve more because 1) I have a master's degree and 2) I have a certain number of years of experience. Be locked and loaded as to why you feel you need to negotiate for more money.

What are your "Do’s and Don’ts" of negotiating?

Avoid throwing a number out there first, understand what the organizations salary range and budget is. When it comes time to talk salary numbers ask, "What do you have budgeted for this position?" You don't want to say, "I want to $60,000" and it could be totally below their budget and you low ball yourself.

Someone else could have the same position and make $30,000 more all because they asked what the budget was. Have a number in your head of what you want, you don't share it with them, but just have it in the back of your head. Make sure you have done research to compare what the job typically pays based on you area, education, and experience which is very important.

When you get an offer don't get so excited and immediately accept the offer. You immediately say, "Thank you, I'd like to think this over for a day." Then you come back and ask if you can negotiate it a little higher and have reasons why. These are some things you can do to ask for more money confidently.

How do you approach negotiating as an entrepreneur?

Always be educated on why and what the client has budgeted. Ask, "what is the budget for this project?" Organizations have a number in their mind of what they're willing to pay. Always lock and load into research on why you need more and sell yourself on why your client needs more. People need to see why they nee to spend more money with you.

How should my negotiation strategies change throughout my career?

When you're fresh out of college and you don't have the years of experience that someone in their mid career may have, leverage the things that you've done and experiences you've had while you're in college. It's still valuable to show that you've done things in that specific area that will still serve as experience once you get into that position.

Show the experience you've gathered over the past five or 10 years and show actionable things you have done. Pull out key numbers and things that you did for another organization to show, "I was able to do this for this organization, so I am able to come do this for your organization and have these same results." Show your value and show you can help grow the company, it makes it easier for them to show their higher ups why they nee to pay you more.

Jacqueline Twillie, Founder and CEO of ZeroGap Consulting
Image: Jacqueline Twillie
Jacqueline Twillie, CEO of ZeroGap Consulting.Jacqueline Twillie

What is the most important thing to consider when negotiating as a woman of color?

Perceptions are really important, so you want to know what frame of reference you're entering negotiations in. Part of that is knowing the organization negotiating with and as well ass the person because you want to manage expectations. Be prepared to do homework.

What are your "Do’s and Don’ts" of negotiating?

You want to prepare, package, practice, ask, and the bonus is to know when to walk away. When you do your preparation, you want to know what the market rate is, and if you're a freelancer what is the going rate for the services you offer, and what's the going salary. You can do this by going to online tools such as Pay Scale, Glassdoor, etc. You can also talk with people in your network and tap into professional organizations.

When you package it, a lot of people make the mistake of going in and asking issue by issue. That comes off as being greedy or unprepared and can put a bad taste in some peoples mouth. So if you know upfront there are three things you want with that job, it's important to have that conversation upfront and let them know what's in it for them.

If it's all about you, it comes off as greedy and you want to come off as a team player. We black women deal with these stereotypes of being aggressive and getting labeled the "B" word if we come off too direct. So when you use inclusive language such as 'what can we do' then you seem more inclusive.

Black women wear their expressions on their face so before you go, look in the mirror or record yourself to practice what you're going to say and see your body language so you don't fall into stereotypes people have about black women and leadership. Most of the time you're going to be negotiating with a white male, so if you have a trusted mentor that you can role play with that is a white male, I would advise you to do that.

Don't ever wing it. Negotiating a salary is high stress. If you wing it you're going to leave money on the table.

How do you approach negotiating as an entrepreneur?

Find out what the federal government is paying for your service and you can gauge what you should be paid based of your experience. Don't hop to discounting your price when people bark at it. You're not making enough money to live when and your scaling back your business. Think about quality. I think about the Brené Brown quote, 'choose discomfort over resentment.'

How should my negotiation strategies change throughout my career?

You want to negotiate right out of the bat, negotiate the first offer. For a lot of new professionals coming in right out of college think they don't have the experience You do have experience. You've been doing some type of work in a professional organization or sorority that translates into the professional environment. When you get the offer ask, "Is this the best we can do with this rate?" Negotiation is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more that you use it.

Because we get paid less than white men for similar types of work, when you tap into your network, talk with people of the opposite race and sex, try to get insider information from someone who is making the market rate.

Follow NBCBLK on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram