The Wage Gap, Women & Negotiation: A Q&A with Drexel’s Lynn Yeakel and Roberta Liebenberg


Women of all ages, particularly young graduates feel an inherent hesitation to negotiate during conversations specific to a position and salary. In fact, a recent study on job negotiations of graduating professional students, found that only 7 percent of female students attempted to negotiate their initial compensation, compared to 57 percent of male students seeking employment. Pennoni Honors College student Kiera Bohan is hosting ASK FOR IT: A Panel Discussion on Women & Negotiation to jumpstart the wage gap conversation on Wednesday, May 25, from 3:30-5 p.m.

Lynn Yeakel, Director, Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership

Featured panelists Lynn Yeakel, director of Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership and founder of Vision 2020 an initiative to achieve women’s economic and social equality by year 2020, and Roberta Liebenberg, Senior Partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black, offered some professional insight on the issue.

For women, where do you think the hesitation to negotiate a salary or position begins?

Yeakel: I wrote a blog for the Huffington Post entitled “Pay Equity Begins at Home.”  My emphasis was on research that shows that often girls are expected to help out at home (with dishes, laundry, etc.) while boys are given tasks for which they are paid, such as mowing the lawn. Thus parents may unconsciously send a message that devalues women’s work.

How important is it to bring men into the gender equality conversation?

Yeakel: It is extremely important to have men participate in the gender equality conversation, to understand the benefits of shared leadership, which is a Vision 2020 goal, and to recognize the barriers such as unconscious bias that slow women’s progress.

Do you think there are any misconceptions when it comes to the gender wage gap? 

Yeakel: There is a misconception that women are responsible for the pay gap because they don’t negotiate properly when, in fact, women and men may negotiate differently and there are attitudinal and institutional barriers that must be changed.

As more high-profile women come forward and publically address the difference of their earnings compared to their male counter parts, such as “House of Cards” actress Robin Wright and the U.S. Women’s Soccer National Team – can we expect to see the wage gap conversation progress?

Liebenberg: It is very helpful to have high profile women actresses, athletes and other cultural icons coming forward and discussing the long-standing pay gap between women and men. Their willingness to speak out shines a spotlight on wage inequality, which impacts women in nearly every profession and job category. It is experienced by women in every state, and actually increases at higher educational levels such as graduate degrees. The wage gap adds up to very significant amounts over the course of a career, with women experiencing an average lifetime shortfall of $700,000 to $2 million compared to their male counterparts.  Significantly, 40 percent of working mothers with children under 18 are their families’ sole or primary breadwinners, and 83 percent of single parent families are headed by women. Thus, the gender pay gap is not just a women’s issue, it is a family issue. Women who make more can contribute to the economy because they will have more money to spend.

The willingness of actresses to stand up and fight for pay equality has inspired some male actors, such as Bradley Cooper, to also help fight gender pay inequalities by sharing salary information with female co-stars prior to production in future movies.

What do you think needs to change? Do you think it will be different in the future?

 Liebenberg: An important thing we need to change is the false narrative that men are better negotiators for their own salaries. Extensive research shows that women don’t negotiate their starting salaries nearly as often as men because of implicit biases that are persistent in our society. In fact, there is a substantial backlash against women when they negotiate. For example, a study by Linda Babcock, Hannah Riley Bowles and Lei Lai found that when women try to negotiate starting salaries, both men and women employers are less likely to want to work with or hire them. The effect of this bias is quite large, as women who negotiated faced a social penalty 5.5 times than that faced by men, as the women negotiators are perceived as less likeable and appealing as colleagues. The solution is a new system for setting starting salaries

Simply including the words “salary negotiable” in a job posting closed the pay gap between male and female hires by 45 percent. Another important strategy to ensure pay equity, is to have a critical mass of women on compensation committees. Research confirms that having at least two or more women on a compensation committee has a significant impact on eliminating pay inequalities.

What advice do you have for all women graduates who are beginning to seek employment?

Liebenberg: My advice to women graduates is as follows:

  1. Gather as much information as possible about the salary parameters of the position to which you are applying. There are myriad public sources like, PayScale, Hired, and The Department of Labor, that can provide very useful and relevant information about pay in particular industries.
  1. Keep in mind that compensation entails more than simply base pay. For example, you can also negotiate with respect to additional job benefits, such as reimbursement for relocation, continuing education, home computer, and cell phone expenses. In addition, you can negotiate for eligibility for bonuses or for a particular job title or designation, which may entail stock options and other benefits.  Think about negotiating for a “stretch assignment” or placement in a particular division or group that will help you advance in your career.
  1. If you don’t succeed in your negotiation, don’t give up. Try to develop an action plan for the future that will help you achieve your goals. Also, look to enlist well-positioned sponsors and mentors who can advocate on your behalf and tout your accomplishments to salary and promotion decision-makers.


For media inquiries, contact Emily Storz: or 215-895-2705.

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