Dr. Crazy hits it again and dares to talk about money. (You’ll recall that she has bravely led us on the topic before.) Specifically, she writes about her money–how much she makes, and how it stacks up against her peers: “Now, when I did my negotiating, lo, those many years ago, I sort of felt like I didn’t exactly set the world on fire. I only ended up getting a bump of a grand to what they initially offered, and I felt like I was a bit silly even having bothered to ask. However, I now see how that bump has grown so man, any bump you can negotiate to your base is totally worth it.” In the comments, we started talking about salary negotiation, and it called to mind my first experience with negotiations when I was offered my first tenure track job. So, here’s the true story from the Historiann archives, with the actual numbers, although they embarrass me deeply.
When I was offered my first tenure-track job in 1997, I was offered $32,000 a year plus moving expenses. I thanked the chair of that department, and said I’d get back to him. At that point I had taught at two different institutions for a year and a half total, so when I called him back the next day I asked for more money, pointing out truthfully that the offer he had tendered was $1,000 less than I had earned the previous year as a full-time lecturer when I was still ABD. I had completed my Ph.D., and thought that my degree plus the experience merited consideration. (Plus, who accepts an opening offer in what we all know is a negotiation?) I can’t remember any longer what exactly the chair said, but his tone of voice and his mood indicated that he was irritated that I was asking for more money. (Seriously–what did he expect?) I was shocked that he seemed to be treating me in such a hostile manner–remember, I hadn’t accepted the job yet, so a rational and responsible department chair would be trying to talk me into taking the offer, not talking to me in a contemptuous fashion. I remember distinctly saying, “Well, L., this is how the game is played, isn’t it?” to suggest that his agitation at my counter-request was out of place. He then became obviously angry, and shouted into the phone, “This isn’t a game to me!”
You have to consider that at that moment, I was a soon-to-be unemployed 28 year-old, and L. was at least 15 years my senior, a tenured associate professor, and the chair of the department. Of course, l’esprit de l’escalier suggests that the right response would have been, “Well with an opening offer of toy money like that, it sure looks like a game to me!” Or more seriously, “You can’t talk to me like this. I’m contacting the Dean to ask that he negotiate with me, or I’ll decline your offer and tell your colleagues exactly why.” Or even better, “Please thank your colleagues for the job offer, but I can’t work with someone who responds like you did to a completely reasonable and predictable request. Good luck with the next candidate on your list!” Of course instead, I probably mumbled something of an apology and asked him to take my request to the Dean. I can’t say for sure that my sex was instrumental to this chair’s angry reaction that I was negotiating salary–but I think it has to have been a big part of it. (Remember that big ol’ persistent wage gap that Judith Bennett wrote about? I think that’s both a cause and effect of her “patriarchal equilibrium” argument.)
This is why, when Dr. Crazy suggested that there might be some successful “feminine” strategies for salary negotiation, I was skeptical. Women who expect to be paid for their work are already violating gender norms in our society, so asking for more money–well, who do you think you are, you greedy little b!tch? L. never said that directly, but his conversations with me were suffused with that kind of attitude. (This is also a man who the following year, when I told him I had won a nationally competitive fellowship and asked for a semester off to take it, he immediately started lecturing me that I really needed to “establish myself” as a teacher, and lectured me that I shouldn’t be away from home too long so that I didn’t neglect what he imagined were my domestic responsibilities. Yeah, gender had a lot to do with how he treated me. Class did too I think, but that’s a story for another day.)
Does it make the story funnier to know that the job I was offered was the line in American women’s history? No? I’m pretty sure that there was no appropriately “feminine” way that I could have approached the negotiation to make it go better. The only thing I could have done differently would have been not to negotiate at all and just take what I was given like a good little girl, and I’m constitutionally incapable of that. Besides, I’m a women’s historian who lectures all of the time about the appropriation and exploitation of women’s labor—it seems like professional malfeasance to tolerate a wage gap even for myself.
In the end, the Dean gave me a $2,000 bump, and I took the job. (Sadly, unemployment was my only other option! A job I had interviewed for in Colorado Springs was in the end offered to someone else, who very smartly snapped it up.) Unfortunately, that telephone conversation turned out to be a telling predictor of this guy’s style and his interactions with me over the next four years, and an accurate glimpse of how that department operated. (I remember calling L. in early January my first year to ask if I could have my syllabi copied in a copy shop and get reimbursed for the expense, because I was stuck home 45 miles from the university in a snowstorm, and I didn’t think my syllabi would be copied in time to hand out on the first day of class the following week. L. remained silent for a moment, and then asked, “what is it with you? You’re always asking for special consideration!” Yeah–selfish, selfish me! The snowstorm all was my fault, and how dare I attempt to function like a professional and have my syllabi ready on the first day of classes?) Looking back, I can see that he was a very inexperienced chair, and he was temperamentally unsuited to the job. I no longer take it personally–although I did wonder for a while if he was a scheming Machiavellian who preferred another candidate and was hoping that I would turn down the offer. That ended when I got to the university and saw quickly that he wasn’t clever enough or evil enough to be Machiavellian–he was just in a job over his head, probably depressed, and had anger management issues, of course. But, still: many times I have wished that I had just hit the “NOPE” button that afternoon in February, 1997!
What are your experiences with salary negotiations? I admit that my pessimistic view of sex and salary negotiations are deeply colored by this one experience. Readers, take it away!