I have read a lot about the gender wage gap in medicine, so when I first thought about re-negotiating my own salary, I felt sure that I was in the right. During the process, I learned there are several steps between knowing that and translating that into a new paycheck, and now that I’m done, I want to share some of the useful tips I gained, from both my own experience and other resources. As our DC ACC WIC chapter just had a session on this topic, and Equal Pay Day was last month, the timing seems particularly apt.
I started with figuring out what I thought I deserved to be making based on my particular job specifics. There are some national numbers, like the ones collected by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), which give a median salary and break the range down into subgroups for each specialty. But, my sense is that salary is too variable by region to rely on this number alone. I found that reaching out to my area co-fellows about their compensations was the most helpful – to my very pleasant surprise, everyone I asked was happy to share!
Our ACC WIC Chapter Event speaker, Carolyn Carr-Ragland, stressed the importance of talking about salary in ranges over single numbers. While I’m not sure I understand the rationale behind this argument, I trust her expertise. She also pointed out that when we make the ask, we should come in at a higher percentage than what we actually want. Murmurs in the room were consistent with asking for 10 to 20% more – but she pushed back and said, why not 50%? Or 80%? While I’m not sure I could ask for 180% of what I’m worth with a straight face, I did think that her point was well taken. Women notoriously underask, and that sets us up for a lifetime of falling behind.
Once I had a number in mind, I had to request the meeting with the chair of my department. I was lucky to have a mentor at work who sat down with me and looked at my contributions to our section compared with those from my colleagues, which helped. I also made a list of the things I was hired to do with their current status, as well as additional things I had done since starting. When I emailed to request the meeting, I only mentioned a few of these, but I kept the master list ready for the actual sit-down.
The classic teaching is that a successful negotiation is one in which no one walks away happy. BATNAs will tell you that you need your bottom line before even starting the process. While I find some truth in these ideas, I think the reality for many of us is that we’re happy with our jobs; we just want to be paid fairly. In the end I have mixed feelings about these tips and tactics – there are probably some universal rules, but I also believe that individual personalities and power structures matter very much. For instance, I found it helpful to sit down with the Chair of Cardiology and the Chief of Medicine together at my institution; I think that worked well for us because we are a smaller hospital.
Ultimately, the one thing I did that was the most helpful in my salary re-negotiation was to have a mock conversation with my mentor. He asked me tough questions and stayed in character as I responded. I’m pretty sure that going through the same exercise with a friend would have resulted in a breakdown – but since he kept up the façade, I practiced the verbiage of my pitch, and I think because of that my ultimate delivery was stronger. We anticipated questions that would come my way, and I had good answers ready.
In the end, I’d say that re-negotiating my salary came down to (a) being confident in my requested range and (b) practicing, word-for-word, my delivery. I asked for a 10-15% increase, and the verbal feedback I got during my meeting was that this was a reasonable request. I am pleased to share that my new salary is indeed in that range, and now I feel I am being paid equitably for the work that I do.