I’ve watched 190+ women & people of color negotiate. Here’s what I've learned.Featured

Hi everyone, I’m Jordan Sale and I’m the founder of 81cents, where we help women and underrepresented minorities source vetted compensation data and intel from recruiters and hiring managers so we can navigate tough conversations more confidently.I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve learned from watching 190+ individuals negotiate in the year since we got started. I’m also happy to take any questions; just enter them in the comments below.#1. Everyone is nervous when they negotiate. It’s human.Regardless of how in-demand a person’s skill set is, everyone who negotiates gets nervous. They all question their value and worry that they won’t be “worth” it to the company. I’ve heard a Level 6 UX Researcher at Lyft consider not negotiating (she did and received a $30,000 signing bonus) and a L5 Product Marketer at Google worry about asking for too much (turns out she was being underpaid by about 20%). It’s completely normal and part of being an empathetic human!However, most recruiters have told us they usually have at least $10,000 to negotiate with before having to re-level the offer or get more senior approval (with the exception of entry-level rotational programs).Tip - write a script! It’s the best way to feel confident ahead of a negotiation. Email me ([email protected]) if you’d like a template to work off of.#2. Asking for increased pay is f*cking hard—even when you think about it all day.I spend all day every day thinking about negotiating, so you think I’d be good at it by now. I thought so, too. However, I recently started going to a new therapist. Before we met, the therapist said she was open to giving me a discounted hourly rate since she doesn’t accept insurance and I’m newly self-employed (working on 81cents!). I looked at my budget and calculated what I could afford.However, during the session, when the therapist asked me what number made sense for me, I froze and blurted out $25 above what I’d calculated. I totally panicked and negotiated against myself. Negotiating is really hard and you won’t always get it right. However, there is no better feeling than knowing you were clear about your needs and the value you bring to the table. I’m currently working up the courage to re-negotiate with my therapist.#3. Data makes a difference.It’s common knowledge that having accurate salary benchmarks is super helpful for negotiations (i.e. data on what others in similar roles earn). Quoting “market rates” can give managers and recruiters material to use to advocate on your behalf.I’ve also seen the impact that realistic data can have on the confidence of the person actually making the ask. Having external data points helps you feel confident and validated in what you’re asking for.Spend serious time (at least two hours) looking for salaries of others in similar roles. Find people in your field and ask to have candid, open conversations about pay. Glassdoor alone is not sufficient. I recommend acknowledging the awkwardness and offering to share your pay first.Here are a few of the resources we like in addition to 81cents compensation reports: - Paysa (out of business but still very helpful)- Levels.fyi- Blind- Salary.com- This survey of women’s compensation- Angel.co- Wager#4. Look at the whole offer.I’ve seen dozens of people ask for more money just for the sake of it and because you’re “supposed” to (see tip 5 below) while ignoring other less glamorous components of the offer that might actually be more meaningful to them, both financially and personally, for example, a 401(k) match, a great bonus structure to keep them motivated, or more time off. Two suggestions:1. Before you get to the offer stage, try to rank all of the different components of compensation (apart from base salary) and how they matter to you. Make sure to consider things like healthcare coverage, retirement plans, commuter benefits, women’s health, and perks like free lunch, etc. The more you understand yourself and what you care about, the better your negotiation will go and the more clear and intentional your asks will be.2. Build a spreadsheet to quantify every component of the offer. I’ve seen individuals take a new offer with a higher salary only to realize they’re making about the same when they realize their healthcare or retirement benefits aren’t as strong as they were before. For example, a year of free lunches is easily worth $1,300 ($5 / lunch) and the difference between a 5% and 6% 401(k) match can be significant.#5. You should always ask. Many companies actually set offers about 5 - 10% below what they have the budget for, expecting the candidate to negotiate. In one extreme case, I even heard of someone who got reprimanded for not negotiating. It was for a sales role and the logic was if they couldn’t negotiate for themselves, then how could they be expected to negotiate for the company.Out of the 190+ negotiations 81cents has supported, we’ve only seen one offer get rescinded. As with most offers being rescinded, it had nothing to do with asking for more pay. In fact, the person had negotiated successfully with the recruiter and received a $5,000 signing bonus. Their offer was taken off the table because they didn’t respond to the recruiter’s email thanking them for the increase. It sounds silly but, as you go through your negotiation, make sure to be gracious, appreciative, and empathetic to the recruiter and hiring manager you’re working with.#6. You can do it. I swear.Just because you’re not great at haggling at a car dealership or street market doesn’t mean you can’t be a great negotiator in a professional setting. In fact, the best negotiators are understanding, flexible, respectful, and collaborative. Here are a couple of success stories to show that YOU can do it:Self-taught SWE in Northampton, Massachusetts - L was offered a Junior SWE role after a successful internship as the only woman on a team of 18. She was offered a salary of $64K and a small amount of equity. L negotiated and made a case around her previous (non-SWE) work experience as well as her success during her internship. She received a $10,000 increase in salary as well as a promise to revisit her pay in 3-6 months.PM in New York City - A had been a PM at an education-focused non-profit for the past two years. She recently received an offer to join an education startup. The offer was $145,000 and $52,000 of equity which our reviewers deemed about average. A wrote a detailed script and made a case around market rates and her relevant experience in education. Within an hour of her call the recruiter called her to tell her they were bringing her base up by $5,000 and granting her more equity. All she had to do was ask...#7. Make a brag sheet.If you only take one piece of advice from this whole article it should be this - keep an ongoing brag sheet. An incredibly successful (and cynical) person once told me: you can’t always do the work, do it well, and get recognized. At a certain point, it’s not going to be enough. As uncomfortable as it can be to talk openly and honestly about the great work we do and the value we bring to our organizations, it’s essential. Make sure you’re always ready to authentically promote yourself and, if you’re a manager, your team, too.I believe in you and this community believes in you. You’ve got this.For those of you who’ve made it this far, thank you! Feel free to add questions or feedback below.
jessicagrayson's profile thumbnail
Thank you for sharing this information. I hope it gives confidence to people who read it. I just helped a Senior DevOps Engineer with over 20 years of experience negotiate for a better offer and even he was still nervous about this process - so it happens to everyone! Most recruiters are not necessarily going to have a huge stake in the success of the negotiation, but they do want to advocate for you, so having facts and data to support your requests goes a long way for the recruiter to be helpful for you!
jordansale's profile thumbnail
@jessicagrayson that's awesome - thanks for sharing. It's true - negotiating can be really painful and uncomfortable regardless of how much experience you have.
shreyaa's profile thumbnail
I'm an 81cents reviewer and a huge fan of what you're doing. Thanks for sharing these insights!One massive information gap that I think 81cents could work to address is the difficulty involved in valuing equity. (I think there's a new YC startup working on this exact problem.)From a negotiation standpoint, there are simple questions you can ask to enable you to value your equity:1. Ask for the total number of shares outstanding (incl. all common, preferred, restricted, etc.), and divide your grant by this number to calculate your % ownership. It blows my mind that companies just list an absolute number of options they'll be granting you with no context on what that means for your overall stake. Percent ownership is one of the simplest ways to compare equity packages - you want more of the company. If there's only one piece of info you can get during the negotiation process, make it this. 2. If you can, also understand the preference stack. Here are some good summaries of how liquidation preferences can impact your returns: https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/25/wtf-is-a-liquidation-preference/, https://www.seedinvest.com/blog/startup-investing/liquidation-preferences3. Find out how long the exercise window lasts. If you're lucky you'll have years after your departure to decide whether to exercise (and more time to build up savings to buy your options). But in most cases it's usually 3 months. You'll need to evaluate whether you'll be able to buy your shares at the given strike price (it would be even more crazy if they didn't tell you this, but just to be explicit: make sure you know your strike price).4. Confirm the type of option: ISO or NSO. They have very different tax treatments.5. Determine whether there are any restrictions on your ability to sell the stock. There will usually be a freeze period prior to an IPO. Often the company reserves the right to buy back your options at the exercise price. There may be a number of other transfer restrictions - read the fine print.6. This would be rare, but check if they allow for any sort of accelerated vesting if the company gets acquired (or if there's another significant change of control).7. They likely won't tell you, but it's worth asking if there are any upcoming plans to raise additional funding. This will likely dilute your shares and could be ammo for asking for more. (On the bright side, you're getting in at an earlier strike price.)8. While you're at it, it can't hurt to ask about the burn rate and runway.I'd love to see a way to track/source this in 81cents.
mylegoel's profile thumbnail
Thanks for this! I'm in the process of doing this now with my team so, this is extremely helpful and timely. Good to know what I should definitely include in the options agreement.
nikkiricks's profile thumbnail
Oh amazing! I would add WeWager @wewager.co - to your list of resources. A WOC founder who is also tackling this issue!
jordansale's profile thumbnail
@nikkiricks great addition, added to the list! Cynthia's amazing.There are also a ton of incredible coaches we've gotten to know over the past year: - https://www.nadiadeala.com/- https://www.soulworkandselfies.com/- https://www.shenegotiates.com/- https://www.jamieleecoach.com/home
rebeccawillett's profile thumbnail
This article is an amazing resource and I'm so glad to have learned about 81cents! Bookmarked — I think I might need your services sooner rather than later :)
mylegoel's profile thumbnail
This is amazing and extremely helpful and actionable. Thank you for pulling this together!
HeatherWittenberg's profile thumbnail
This is SO important. Thank you for doing this. As a freelance consultant in a "tech adjacent" role, I've had to negotiate several times when NOBODY knew the "going rate" -- because my role was so unusual. (I'm a psychologist, and I consult on lots of stuff including product, content, customer motivation, marketing, and HR.) I paid a ton of very worthwhile dollars to an awesome woman lawyer who walked me through the value of Intellectual Property, Name and Likeness, and the benefits of having a Minimum Monthly Payment consulting structure. This has made a difference of hundreds of thousands for me over several years! It was eye-opening to start at the point of "Well, I guess I just have to take what they offer me" to an understanding that while the negotiations might actually take months -- it would be SO worth it in the long run - both to my self-esteem, and to my overall professional success. Sharing these tips helps make us all more successful. Thank you!
SofiaMealz's profile thumbnail
Such a great article! Thanks for sharing!
mireyam's profile thumbnail
Such a great article!
catherinedavies's profile thumbnail
I love this!! 100% agree with your observations and tips ESPECIALLY the brag sheet! Little girls are so often told not to show off, not to talk about themselves the whole time, not to ask for what they want... Am doing something v similar in the UK and run group programs teaching women how to negotiate pay rises! And they all get lovely pay rises! I was on the BBC talking about it recently https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00088kc Things need to change, employers need to change, but in the meantime individual women need to have the courage to ask for what they want to get paid, to narrow the gender pay gap one woman at a time...
tatendagumbo's profile thumbnail
Thank you for this, we are going to take a lot of points from this!
christinetreacy's profile thumbnail
What a great company you've got here! And great advice you're giving out. Negotiating or asking for a raise is super stressful and scary! I've been out of college now for 12 years and just now within the last 2 years have I really started to learn how to work up the courage to ask for more money. I'd always gotten normal, periodic raises at past companies so it never dawned on me to ask for more or to ask before It was given to me. I wish I would have woken up to this years ago! Just earlier this year I had a nerve-wrecking experience of receiving a raise with my annual review but I still knew I deserved more. So I asked my boss to ask the owner to re-consider what I originally asked for. You know what happened? The owner had just blindly looked over my review and gave me some baseline, low-ball raise. He admitted it! So in turn he ended up giving me more than what I originally asked for. He realized he screwed up and wanted to make it right (or at least that's how I took it). I was really happy that I stood up for myself and it ended up REALLY paying off for me in the long run.
jordansale's profile thumbnail
Wow this is amazing @christinetreacy. So proud of you for making the ask - really not an easy feat but hopefully now feels a little easier for the next time!
christinetreacy's profile thumbnail
Thank you @jordansale !! I definitely DO feel more confident about it now after going through that experience.