Survey: Why women choose not to negotiate salary in sports
Her path came through the human resources departments of the YES Network, the NFL and public relations firm Edelman, where her skill set was general enough that she figured there were more able and willing candidates than opportunities, particularly with the perceived perks of working in sports.
When the Hawks came looking for a chief diversity officer, a position no other NBA franchise had created, Shaw thought that her unique qualifications for the new position merited a compensation conversation.
“Being in HR, you see who negotiates and who doesn’t,” said Shaw, who joined the Hawks from Edelman late in 2015. “Oh, my God, was there a difference. I always knew when we offered a guy a position, we would have to come back to him with a better number. Whereas the women — being honest — it was like, ‘If you offer this job at this number, she will take it.’ Nine times out of 10, they did.”
That experience seems to resonate across the sports industry.
A recent Turnkey Intelligence survey commissioned by SportsBusiness Journal found that while men and women who work in sports were equally likely to negotiate compensation before accepting a job — with about six out of 10 saying they tried — the women who opted not to negotiate reported different reasons than their male counterparts for not doing so.
While 52 percent of men said they opted not to because they felt the offer they received was fair, only 35 percent of women cited that as the primary reason. Twenty-eight percent of women said it “never occurred to” them to negotiate, as compared to only 11 percent of men. Strikingly, 21 percent of women said they lacked confidence in their negotiating skills, a reason given by only 5 percent of men.
But such sentiment is not exclusive to sports — it’s a dynamic that has been examined in the broader work force, where studies repeatedly show that women are less inclined to negotiate salary than men for varied reasons, with recent research finding that concerns that they might not be treated as well if they negotiated often were merited.
The issue has attracted enough attention that the city of Boston hosts salary negotiation workshops for women, attracting almost 5,000 attendees in the last two years.
Women also were more likely than men to say that they feared they’d be treated differently if they negotiated (16 percent to 9 percent) and that they didn’t want to seem ungrateful for a job offer (24 percent to 20 percent).
“I was taught growing up that negotiating is not a good thing,” Shaw said. “I don’t agree with that now. But I was taught that you need to be mild-mannered and reserved and grateful for any opportunity you are given. If you work hard and do the things you’re supposed to be doing, you will get your fair share. But as far as being outspoken and asking out loud for specific currency, it’s not going to be well received. I don’t agree with that now. I think that’s bad counsel. But it’s cultural.”
Both Shaw and Boardman said they saw improvement, particularly among younger sports industry job candidates.
But their observation runs counter to the data. When Turnkey Intelligence last conducted a survey of female sports executives three years ago, those who chose not to negotiate were considerably more likely to say it was because the offer was fair and considerably less likely to point to a lack of awareness or confidence (see charts).
Among those who attempted to negotiate salary, 89 percent of men reported at least partial success. Seventy-nine percent of women who negotiated said they succeeded.
“This is the funny bone of all the diversity issues: Women advocating for compensation,” Boardman said. “That’s the most sensitive part of all this if you work in sports.”
Turnkey Sports President Len Perna, who also heads his company’s executive search practice, believes women looking to work their way up through a male-dominated sports industry are less likely to push the compensation discussion.
“They are disadvantaged by the fact that they are generally trying to push their way up in this industry now,” Perna said. “This was mostly a guy industry until 15 or 20 years ago. Now a lot more women are coming into the industry, but they’re a bit at a disadvantage because to the extent that you want and need the job more to move up in the organization you’re much less likely to negotiate hard.”
Shaw pointed to the dearth of women in senior management in sports as a likely factor in the survey results, since salaries for senior positions traditionally are more negotiable and men are more likely to hold those roles. Forty-five percent of men who responded held titles of senior vice president or higher. Only 19 percent of women who responded held those titles.
“The only time I’ve seen women negotiate was when the jobs were SVP and above,” Shaw said. “If a woman was trying to get a job at director or below, she wouldn’t negotiate.”
Perna said the responses on salary negotiation surprised him, based upon his experience with female candidates. He said he hasn’t found women to be less likely to negotiate salary. But he did see differences in the way they approach their job candidacy.
“Females tend to come in and they’re sort of looking out for the greatest marginal utility. ‘What is best for the organization? Am I the right person? I’m not sure,’” Perna said. “That’s not how guys come in. Guys come in with: ‘I’m the best. I’m your man. Here are my assets.’ Guys are not focused on what’s best for the organization. They are focused on getting an offer.
“I haven’t noticed a difference between men and women once they get the offer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there.”
What Participants Said …
“I get comments constantly about whether I’m ‘really into sports.’ If I were a man, no one would even ask that.”
“I have been given additional duties and roles to fill without compensation, time and time again, while male colleagues performing slightly additional duties are handsomely compensated, often in the range of $25,000 to $45,000 a year greater than I am. I have the formal training and education to perform those duties, but they played the game.”
“As a woman, my responsibility to the next generation is to illustrate that you can use your gender as an advantage because we provide a different perspective.”
“I’ve been told I am not able to apply for certain positions because ‘I’m not a former player.’”
“It has been my experience that women have to take on additional responsibilities to prove they can successfully perform before being promoted, while men are more often promoted based on their perceived potential.”
“Women have many, many more opportunities than when I started 40 years ago, and I am grateful for this — they can decide to produce, direct, be in the studio or on the sideline, and there is a place for them. It’s a lot of progress in four decades, but I’m hungry for more!”
“It seems to me that visible, tangible progress has been made in the last 10 years.”
“When you have an opportunity to stand out simply because you are a woman, you grab that opportunity with both hands and feet, and you back it up with a stellar performance.”
“I think leagues, teams and brands are starting to do a better job at creating equal opportunities for women, but there is still a long way to go.”
“When I worked for a sports team I wasn’t allowed in the locker room. But then the men that were allowed in had better relationships with the players, which made their jobs easier.”
“My experiences as a female allow me to have a unique and distinct point of view that not many organizations have.”
“There have been many times where I’m surrounded by men and the machismo comes out in full force and I feel that I’m forced into a position to nod along and laugh. On the flip side, given the limited amount of women in sports (especially as you progress up the chain), I find it motivating to be the minority since it challenges me to be successful and show what I can do.”
The Gender Gap in Sports Business
SportsBusiness Journal recently commissioned Turnkey Intelligence to conduct a study among sports professionals that measured attitudes, perceptions and facts about the gender gap in sports business. The two organizations fielded a similar study in 2014. Subscribers of SBJ, SportsBusiness Daily and SportsBusiness Global were invited via email and personal conversations to participate. In all, 503 sports business executives completed this year’s study — 269 women and 234 men. In 2014 there were 417 participants — 230 men and 187 women.