The salary waltz

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor

Whether you are on Wall Street or in a long-term care facility, there's one thing that everyone climbing the career ladder thinks about: salary.

If you're a woman on an uphill employment trajectory, you've probably absorbed that, on average, women are paid less than men in the same position, and there is still a dearth of women in top positions, especially in Fortune 500 companies and in politics. (Although Senators-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) make up a binder full of women headed straight to the upper chamber of the U.S. Congress in January).

But as a new book points out, ambitious women looking at leadership positions, and the salaries that come with them, may have been slightly misled. Despite its provocative title, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin is more about the balance men and women are trying to create in a new economy, whether it's the huge numbers of women going to pharmacy school or middle class men looking at options beyond manufacturing, which may include nursing.

However, it's the chapter on salary that particularly struck me, as it's a constant topic of discussion in long-term care between both sexes. Women have been told in several books, including Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, to be tougher when it comes to negotiations, especially around salary and promotions. This is not about encouraging greed. It's just good old-fashioned math: Economist Linda Babcock, Ph.D., found male Carnegie Mellon University alumni with their master's degrees negotiated so their starting salaries averaged 7.6% higher than women's. That means even if it was set in stone that each employee would be getting a 3% raise each year, the man's higher starting salary would equal substantially more cash over the course of his career.

The problem is, once women started bluntly asking for more, whether it was money or receiving credit for work they did, they were — surprise, surprise — not liked by their colleagues. And over the long run, it hurt them.

“So what were women supposed to do, bake brownies for their colleagues, give noontime massages and generally spread sunshine around the office?” Rosin poses.

If you do not have a husband plying your office with baked goods (which I personally can recommend as a win-win), Hannah Riley Bowles at Harvard's Kennedy School has come up with a script, Rosin reports. It is essentially when women say something along the lines of, “I don't know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I'm hopeful that you'll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I bring to the job.”

It's tips like that which allow women to find the right balance in negotiation. We know in long-term care that times are tough, and sometimes no one will be receiving a raise. But we also know many employees who are their family's sole source of financial support, either because they are single or divorced mothers, or because their healthcare position was more recession-proof than that of a male partner.

They didn't go into the long-term care field thinking they'd become wealthy. But as we look toward the future of healthcare, we owe prodigies, employees and our daughters the tools and education to start asking — the right way – for what they are worth.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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