The Relentless Art of Salary Negotiation

Execs at a TV station promised to "do better" on women's salaries. Why was it so hard for one woman to close the $30,000 gap?

The Relentless Art of Salary Negotiation
Illustration: Hanna Barczyk

I was sitting in the makeup chair with my eyes closed as the hairstylist touched up my curls. This was part of my routine before I went on air as a host for a daily web show. There was an ease between us and we both bantered away about life, love — and occasionally money.

I said I planned to ask for a raise later that day. 

“How much money do you make?” she asked.

I spent every morning with this woman, and we had become friends, so I told her.

“I’m pretty sure he’s making $30,000 more than you,” she replied. He — as in, my white male counterpart. 

I had long suspected that this colleague — a guy who did the same job as me and had a similar level of experience — was getting paid more. Now my suspicions were getting stronger.

We were the only two hosts on the show, but the way he casually bragged about how much they paid him had made me start to wonder how much they actually did.

Weeks earlier, human resources had gathered together dozens of female employees and told us that they planned to “do better.” An internal survey had revealed that across the board, women were paid less than men who did the same job. We all feigned surprise.

Management promised to correct what it could, and urged us to come forward with any discoveries of unequal pay. I understood the assignment: when they told me to go find wage inequality, they didn’t have to ask me twice. As it turned out, I didn’t have to look far. (Really, I shouldn’t have had to look at all — correcting pay gap issues is something payroll could have handled easily. But I digress.)

Navigating the pay gap as a Black woman bears its own unique frustrations, and the statistics are deeply depressing. A recent study conducted by the Women’s Law Center, found that while women overall in the U.S. make around 80 cents for every dollar a white man makes, Black women make only 67 cents. This means that over a 40-year career, a Black woman stands to lose out on around $907,680 in wages compared with a white man. Not to point out the obvious, but that amount could be life-changing for women, their families and their communities.

Discovering the chasm between my colleague’s salary and my own left me shaken. I had been in the job for over a year and in that time my workload had doubled. Armed with the knowledge of what the company should be paying me and a list of reasons why I deserved it, that afternoon I marched into my manager's office, confident that she would respect my moxy. She told me that my salary was fair. I asked her to please submit my request for a raise anyway. 

Months later, she came back with a “no” from management. I asked her to submit it again, and this time point out that they had asked us to call out issues of wage inequality. And guess what? I got the raise. All $30,000 of it! It was months after my initial ask, but I got it.

It felt like a huge win. I was raised by a single mother who worked tirelessly for every single dollar she earned. I was taught to work hard, keep my head down and get the paycheck. This mentality often left me silent in salary negotiations. When I was applying for this particular job, I wanted it so badly that I didn’t want to ask for too much. My mistake. 

Being asked by my employer to report wage gaps (again, a job for payroll), and then having my request for a raise turned down when I did report it, made me realize it was time to silence that inner voice. Here’s how I managed it:

Talk to a white man at work who you trust. Ask him to grab a coffee, and during the conversation, slip in some casual talk about salary transparency. Figure out how he’s navigating the office, because understanding his experience can help you to better understand the culture of your workplace.

I asked a white man in our company, who hosted a different show, to give me a “fair salary range” for our role. To no one's surprise, my salary was about $30,000 below his range.

Channel the cast of Succession. Actually, don’t do that — those people are awful. But we can learn something from them: A white man is likely to ask for more money than he needs, or thinks he deserves, because he has been taught that people will negotiate with him. We know from statistics that Black women can be penalized for being assertive in negotiations, but carrying that belief into a salary talk is limiting. You have a right to negotiate. 

A site like Glassdoor, which lists average salaries at most companies, can be a helpful tool to research salaries based on your role and location, so you can make sure you’re asking for what you deserve.

It pays to be likeable at the office, and it’s smart to make genuine connections with the people who work in your building, such as maintenance professionals, security guards and doormen. The best negotiators come to the table armed with intel, and these oft-overlooked employees know all of the tea. In my case, the hair and makeup team knew everything — how much people made, who got raises and who was getting fired. 

At work Black people, women and people of color deal with varying levels of psychological safety — that sense of being able to trust colleagues or feel comfortable challenging management — and that can affect how we show up and speak up for ourselves. Keep a running Google Doc of what you've accomplished (and to remind yourself that you belong there!). Pretty soon you’ll have more receipts than a Real Housewife, and you can walk into your next negotiation knowing your worth. 

“No” doesn’t mean “never.” If you’re told that your request for money is coming at the wrong time, don’t be discouraged. Perhaps there are other things you can negotiate for: a better job title, more vacation days, work from home privileges, stock options. White guys ask for those things too.

Negotiating your salary is not comfortable or fun, but the more you speak up, the easier it gets. I’ve had negotiations go my way, and I’ve left others wanting more, but the “no” never feels as bad as not asking at all.

Have you successfully negotiated a raise against the odds? We'd love to hear your story. You can write to us at, or message us on Instagram, Threads and LinkedIn.

Brittany Jones-Cooper is a reporter and producer who’s worked at CBS, ABC, Yahoo and CNBC Select where she’s a contributor on TODAY. Jones-Cooper also produced Microsoft's Changemakers podcast series.