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Journal of Nursing

Female R.N.’s: You May Be Working for Less Pay than Your Male Counterparts 

By Sherie Scarnati, B.S.N. Surgical Breast Disease Center The Western Pennsylvania Hospital [email protected]


I graduated from The Western Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing in 1982. I was offered a salary, accepted it and began what has become a rather lengthy career in nursing. If I would have realized that the initial salary offer was negotiable, I would have taken measures to secure my financial future.


I will be graduating in May 2009 from Carlow University as a Master’s prepared Advance Practice Nurse. I will have the opportunity to make or break my new financial future during contract negotiations. I fully expect to reap the rewards of this educational journey through a well-negotiated employment and benefit package. Factors that will go against me include gender and job description: I am a female nurse.


The majority of hardworking, registered nurses in the United States of America are females. Based on gender alone, this article is a “must read” for each and every one of you. Did you accept the first salary you were offered, and then felt grateful for your sub-standard income? When our male counterparts heard the paltry figure that you accepted, they refused it! The reason for their refusal is that men do not work for less money than they believe they are worth. 


If your goal in life is to do the most amount of work for the least amount of money, stop reading now. If you go any further, you will learn life altering information that will positively impact your financial future and provide gender-based insight. The book that has changed my life is called Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Babcock, L. & Laschever S. (2003).


As I mentioned earlier, I am on the verge of a new career. As a student laborer with 600 clinical hours under my belt, I can attest to the fact that physician expectations of Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner’s (CRNP) far exceed those of a Physician Assistant’s (PA). We are expected to provide a level of service that meets physician standards, patient expectations, and our own self-imposed limits of satisfaction.


Although CRNP’s and PA’s are comparable at the most basic of levels, more is expected of CRNP’s because we are licensed to do more! We can see patients without a physician on-site, write orders that do not require a co-signature, and maintain our own prescriptive privileges. What we cannot do is work a 50 hour week for a 40 hour paycheck! So why do we continue to the right thing for less pay?


In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel "a great deal of apprehension" about negotiating. Females believe that what you see is what you get, situations cannot be changed, if huge salaries were possible then everyone would receive one, and it is simple not nice for a lady to ask. Male perceptions that promote successful negotiations include seeing life as full of opportunity, believing that most situations are flexible, rules are made to be broken, much can be gained by asking and always ask even if it looks impossible.


Women are pessimistic about the amount of money available and believe that salary offers and raises are fixed. Men perceive offers as a reference point for negotiation. Typical male starting salaries are $4000.00 more than female starting salaries. By age 60, males have amassed $568,834 more than the females in the same positions. What a difference a conversation can make!


Women have low expectations and lack knowledge of monetary worth. In fact, many women are so grateful to be offered a job that they accept the initial offer without negotiating. To explain differences between men and women, one must understand that gender roles are formed by age 2. For example, little girls play with different toys than little boys. Boys are paid to wash the car while girls are expected to do the dishes. Think about your parent’s while growing up. Dad sits down for his meal and Mom serves it, Dad drives the car and Mom is a passenger. Women are passive due to lifelong notions of unselfishness, are not used to getting things they want, believe that they are perceived as being difficult if they come on too strong, prefer to be rewarded for hard work, and receive raises without asking.


Before sitting down to negotiate, remember that negotiation means that you must use your influence in a positive manner. Assertive, aggressive behaviors are not considered attributes, but likeability always wins. The double standard in negotiation means that what works for a man will work against a woman.


In other words, successful women must negotiate in the feminine role. Dress like a women, speak softly and slowly, use the power of pause, inject a little self-directed humor, use emotions properly, remember that you are worthy, and only appear vulnerable.


I recently discussed the contents of this book with a female surgeon in our practice. She had recently learned that the male surgeons in our group were earning almost $100,000.00 more per year while operating on fewer patients. Needless to say, she agreed to utilize the strategies recommended in the book. The end result was a generous counteroffer plus five years of retroactive bonuses!


The authors of Women Don’t Ask:  Negotiation and the Gender Divide have a website womendontask.com. This is an excellent and informative site. It offers an option to purchase the book online, view statistics, access other articles, and other interesting tidbits.. Although the book is geared toward the female gender, the applications can be utilized by both male and female genders.


Nursing is all about evidence-based research. Remember, employers offer less than they are willing to pay because they fully expect a counteroffer. It is extremely important to remember that you are worth more than the initial offer. When you finally arrive at the negotiation table, you must be armed with knowledge. This means doing your research. The best way to approach this task if by looking at salary comparisons of both sex professional peers.  The following websites have proven to be extremely helpful: careerbuilder.com; quintcareers.com; salary.com; JobStar.com and salaryexpert.com.


Good luck fellow nurses… don’t forget to ask!



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