Women in Focus: Negotiating Salary

10:58 PM

Why do men make so much more than women in our profession, even in our very first jobs where experience is on a level playing field?  Negotiating the initial salary offer is the most important thing female optometrists can do to close the gender pay gulf (gap is kind of an understatement after Review of Optometry reported a 68% gender pay difference across full-time ODs in 2015). Men are asking for more pay, right from the first offer.  In fact, studies show about 50% of male professional students negotiate their initial salary offer, but only 12.5% of female students do. So if you are wanting fair pay, the very first item on your to-do list needs to be understanding that the first offer is just that, an offer; negotiation expected.  

64.6% of all new graduates were female in 2014 which means now more than ever we need to make strides to close the gender pay gap in our profession.  photo is my 2011 graduating class from the Southern College of Optometry

Why Don't Women Negotiate?
If you ask a room of successful, intelligent women this question, you'll see very similar answers.  We most often don't negotiate due to fear of offending or upsetting our future employer.  It's called the "social cost" of negotiating -- the fear that there will be backlash or that our employer's opinions of us will be negatively impacted because we countered for a higher salary.  And horrifyingly enough, studies prove those fears are real.  Women are on average judged more negatively than men for negotiating their salary, by both female and male employers.  But how you negotiate can make all the difference.  Simply asking for more pay may result in negative impressions, but research shows employers respond very favorably to females negotiating for a cause or on behalf of others.  How can you turn what you want (more pay) into an argument for mutual success for yourself and your employer?  That's the art of the successful negotiation.

What You Can Do For Them (Relational Negotiating)
Think about what your employer needs in a new doctor. Check out their website and social media accounts.  What specialty are they missing?  What (if any) marketing strategy do they have?  You are more than a warm body spinning a phoropter wheel, and the unique assets you can provide for your new employer are what will earn you that coveted paycheck.  Here are some ideas for skills you can offer during negotiation that will make you an asset worth investing in:
  • Experience:  Did you complete a residency? How long have you been working? Often times job postings are listed with new grads in mind so a doc bringing years of experience would be able to leverage that for a better initial offer.  If you are a new grad, there is still a chance you can advocate for yourself as bringing more experience that an average candidate despite your lack of prior work history or higher training.  Did you extern at a highly competitive or challenging environment?  Completing externships at VA hospitals or clinics offering specialization in pediatrics or brain trauma treatment can give you experiences that even older doctors can't match.  How many patients did you see during your externships?  Keep a log of the number of total patients you saw (I know it is tedious, but just keep a spreadsheet going that you update daily during your rotations).   You may surprise yourself (and your employer) by how many patients you have already cared for, despite your lack of traditional work experience as a new grad.
  • Specialties: Does your employer have interest in bulding specialty contact lens services, pediatrics, vision therapy, or low vision? Even if you haven't actually had experience in these areas, just telling your employer that you are interested in developing that area of specialty to expand the scope of their practice can set you apart.  Of course, make sure you follow up by talking about what training you will do (educational events, online lectures, pursuing certification, etc) to make sure you can deliver on this promise for providing specialized care.
  • Skills Outside of Patient Care: Think about work you did in optometry school or before that could be valuable to your employer in their office.  Did you perform research or publish journal articles? Did you work in an optical lab cutting lenses? You might not be logging optical hours grinding lenses for your new practice, but even if your employer doesn't have an in-house lab, your optical skill set gives your employer confidence that you will be a great resource working with the opticians in your workplace.  You can even offer to train new staff in their optical duties. 
  • Languages: Being bilingual is a huge asset.  You can build up your employer's patient demographic in whatever language you speak.  
  • Social Media: Maybe your employer doesn’t have a passable website, or isn't using social media to its fullest (or at all). You could employ your skill set towards creating a valuable digital footprint for the company.   These social media skills are increasingly recognized by employers because an ad for their office in the Yellow Pages just isn't going to cut it anymore. You'll be worth your weight in gold to many private practice ODs if you can come in and take over that side of the practice.
  • Technology: Are you applying for a position where they have not yet changed over to electronic medical records?  The window is quickly closing on how long doctors have left to change over before penalties arise, and they need skilled, EMR ready doctors like yourself to get the system in place. As a new or recent grad. you have also just worked with the latest and greatest new technology in eyecare at your school. You were running all of your own OCTs and fundus autofluorescence cameras.  Not only are you now valuable to the doctors you work for because you can show them how to use new technology to its full capacity, but you can also help train their staff on the proper ways to run this equipment for quality scans.  
Want to add value to your employer's business?  Specialty contact lenses have a huge demand, and can quickly grow the practice you work at with referrals from other area doctors that don't provide such services. image via
Speaking the Language of Negotiation

Now you know the parts of your optometric resume that can be key negotiating points, but how do you actually negotiate?  Speaking the language of negotiation is just as important as determining the benefits that you can offer.  The best negotiators know how to key in to what is important to the other side of the table.  Your potential employer is going to have an obvious motivating force in looking to add you as a doctor to their team:
  1. They want to add monetary value to their practice by seeing more patients
  2. They are looking to find a retirement  plan, and need to bring someone on to phase themselves out. 
  3. They want both options 1 and 2 because retirement is at least five years away.

When you are negotiating a contract, what really speaks to an employer is what you can do for them and their office. If you lead off your salary negotiation with phrases like “I want” or “I need” you may find that your offer is difficult to negotiate.  Think of the initial salary offer you were given as what your employer would pay an average candidate.  Then ask yourself, are you average? All those skills and passions that make you special and uniquely qualified for the job are things your employer wants to add value to their business. Explain to your employer how the things that you can do will grow their business and drive their revenue.  For these extra benefits that you'll be providing to them, you're asking for a compensation of $X instead due to the extra value you'll be generating to the practice as a whole compared to the average candidate.  Now you're not negotiating for you, but for the chance for you to help them.  That's a negotiation where everyone wins.

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