You likely know that African-American men and women make just 73 and 65 cents, respectively, for every dollar their white peers make1. However, it may surprise you to know that the pay gap is partially caused by the lower numerical value African Americans place on themselves as employees. A recent study conducted by Hired showed that African Americans in engineering and technology are missing out on $10,000 per year because they ask for less money in salary negotiations2.
 
Hired is uniquely positioned to conduct salary research, because the platform allows job-seekers to denote their preferred salaries. Companies see this information during the hiring process and begin negotiations from there. Although the average salary requested by white candidates for engineering and tech jobs was $126,600, black candidates asked for $112,800, the lowest ask of any racial group included in the study. When hiring, companies offered white candidates $124,900, compared with $114,800 for black candidates, a difference of $10,100 per year. That means black engineers and technologists could be losing more than a half-million dollars over the course of their lifetimes just because they didn’t ask for more!
 
These findings have a few explanations. First, it’s no secret that technology hubs such as Silicon Valley are not particularly diverse3. Hiring managers may experience implicit bias when working with African-American candidates. Certainly, companies do not intend to short-change their black employees, but they can effectively do just that without a conscious effort. In addition to implicit bias, hiring managers may also experience something called the anchoring effect, which occurs when an individual uses one piece of information to make a judgement4. Seeing that lower salary request may cause a hiring manager to make assumptions about the individual’s value as an employee (and therefore counter with an offer that’s higher than the ask but lower than an offer for a white candidate).
 
A third explanation for the salary gap is that African Americans learn from an early age that their work is less valuable than that of whites5. This complex issue is deeply rooted in institutional racism and lack of representation. We often hear stories of first-generation engineers who succeeded despite the odds; how should those individuals know what to ask for in a salary if they have no guidance? Armed with knowledge of the job’s salary range, an engineer or technologist of color can learn to properly value his or her work.
 
The study also found that black candidates were 49 percent more likely to be hired than white candidates. This could be good news, as many engineering and technology firms have recognized the need to diversify and are actively working to recruit more individuals of color. However, the lower salary requests of African Americans may entice companies to hire lower-cost employees, thus taking advantage of them.

Although changing the culture so African Americans are paid as much as their white counterparts will take time and top-down action, there are a few things you can do to better position yourself when negotiating your salary:
 
  1. Do your homework. Research salaries for the position(s) in which you’re interested, and come prepared to justify your ask. Many websites, such as Glassdoor and PayScale, offer salary information for various positions in various locations. Also, don’t be afraid to ask people you know in the industry how much they make. Salary is a somewhat taboo topic, but if you don’t know what others make, how can you be sure you’re not getting low-balled?
 
  1. Negotiate. Research supports the notion that African Americans, particularly women, are less likely to negotiate their salaries in the first place6. If you’re not comfortable with an offer, make a counter.
 
  1. Practice. It may sound silly, but salary negotiations can be nerve-racking, especially if you haven’t participated in one before. Find a trusted mentor, professor or relative to listen to your pitch, and play out a few scenarios.
 
Finally, remember: the worst that can happen is a hiring manager will decline your request. However, isn’t it better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all? With $10,000 on the line, the better option is clear.
 
Sources:
  1. Patten, E. (2016). Racial, gender wage gaps persist in U.S. despite some progress. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/01/racial-gender-wage-gaps-persist-in-u-s-despite-some-progress/.
     
  2. Coren, M. J. (2017). Programming while black will cost you $10,000 in salary. Retrieved from http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/wired-workplace/2017/02/programming-while-black-will-cost-you-10000-salary/135285/?oref=wired_workplace_nl.
     
  3. How diverse is Silicon Valley? (2013). CNN Money. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from http://money.cnn.com/interactive/technology/tech-diversity-data/?iid=EL
     
  4. Tversky, A., and Kahneman, D. (1975). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. In Utility, probability, and human decision making (pp. 141–162). Springer Netherlands.
     
  5. Steele, C. M. (1992). Race and the schooling of Black Americans. The Atlantic Monthly, 269(4), 68–78.
     
  6. Stevens, C. K., Bavetta, A. G., and Gist, M. E. (1993). Gender differences in the acquisition of salary negotiation skills: the role of goals, self-efficacy, and perceived control. Journal of Applied Psychology78(5), 723.
 
“…Black candidates asked for $112,800, the lowest ask of any racial group included in the study.”