Summit Panelists Share Tips On Negotiating Wages

By Renata Birkenbuel
The Montana Standard, Butte.

Women of all ages tuned in to fine-tune their work-place negotiating skills at the Pay Equity Summit Saturday at Montana Tech.

That included millennials like Jill Benson of Butte.

Even Benson’s charge-ahead, technology-savvy generation needs tips and encouragement for negotiating wages in the work place.

Millennials generally range in age from 18 to 30.

Benson, 26, fiscal officer for Headwaters RC&D, said the negotiating panel confirmed her fears about asking superiors for a salary that fairly reflects her experience and on-the-job worth:

“In previous job negotiations I felt that I had done something wrong by even bringing up the subject,” Benson told The Montana Standard on Saturday.

“As a young professional it was very encouraging to hear from the strong women of the summit that if you do the proper work, you are completely in the right asking for proper pay. It felt really good to hear.”

Benson is one of those rare talents who can work from both sides of her brain: the right-sided artistic side and the logical left-brained portion. She graduated from Montana State University in 2010 with a degree in studio arts, including printmaking and art history.

She doesn’t have a finance degree, but she remains undaunted. Like so many millennials who jump right into a project — win, lose or draw — she took charge of her career.

“I’ve always liked numbers, but art is my passion,” Benson said. “I didn’t want the pressure of trying to survive off art. Numbers come easily to me.”

She has worked at Headwaters for 10 months, where she’s learning leadership skills. After work, she and her sister Libby Coguill, 21, mentor the Girls Excelling in Math and Science, or GEMS, a Butte after-school club for girls in grades 5-8 who want to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math.

But women in general tend to undervalue themselves and their salaried worth, said Jen Euell, panel moderator and Women’s Foundation of Montana director.

“Make sure you tell your employer how much you can do,” said Euell. “Present and propose your work to your superiors.”

Jennifer Shryock, Rainmaker Resumes owner and panelist, gave practical advice. She says to research the company, take stock of your specific skill set and keep track of what you accomplish every day on the job.

“Part of negotiating is seeing the entire package,” said Shryock, of Missoula: “Salary, working from home and benefits.”

Give a potential employer a salary range so you don’t lock yourself in to an amount that undervalues your experience and education.

Also, don’t negotiate until you’ve landed the job.

“Don’t do it early because it could be a screening tool for the employer,” Shryock added.

Panelist Susan Carstensen, former CEO, CFO and senior vice president at RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, reminded summit-goers to speak up about their accomplishments in interviews.

“Women are really good about giving credit to others,” said Carstensen. “You want someone in that room who will be an advantage for you.”

Carstensen worked 12 years at RightNow Technologies, which grew substantially and was sold to Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2012. She now serves on at least a dozen boards and previously worked for Lockheed Martin.

Carstensen added: “Men are very eager and loud about taking credit for themselves. Women need to take the initiative.”
Benson plans to use what she learned from the panel.

“After hearing from them I’ll now be confident in future pay negotiations,” said Benson, whose mother, Ronda Coguill, is a Montana Tech science professor and scientist who leads GEMS.

“I was raised to believe I could get what I deserved,” added Benson.

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