Not Negotiating for Yourself Results in Lower Expectations of You Overall by Others

To help women better position themselves for negotiating — whether for salary purposes or to get better assignments — the League is doing a series of articles with tips and techniques to help local government women improve their skills by learning from other women in the field. This article is the second in our continuing series.


By Pamela Antil, ACA – City of Santa Barbara, CA & President, League of Women in Government

Even though women make up a little more than fifty percent of the local government workforce, women track pretty consistently with the private sector and earn on average about 20 percent less than men. Much has been said about this history of the “why” this occurs, but today’s article and tips focus on the “how” to change this statistic in the future.

Lee E. Miller of the firm Negotiation Plus and who wrote,  A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating, with his daughter Jessica Miller, states that sixty percent of negotiating is gender neutral. The other forty percent? Miller says is the remaining percentage is different for men and women. The differences come from the way each of us is perceived by the person on the other side of the negotiating table. “Women bring certain advantages and disadvantages to the table,” Miller writes.

One such disadvantage, as Miller describes it, is called the “empathy trap.” This refers to the perception by many that women are expected to be more accommodating and collaborative in the workplace. As a result, women can often be more empathetic to the needs of the other people in the organization at the expense of their own needs.

Even though I am taking on more responsibility in a new job, I can’t ask for a bigger raise while others in the company go without.” 

Miller argues that not negotiating for yourself results in lower expectations of you by others! This, in turn, can result in a long-lasting perception of your capabilities and strengths in the workplace. Ultimately, this can have a devastating effect on your assignments in the short-term and your career in the long-term.

Another disadvantage is one that women have a hard time overcoming because it is controlled by other’s preconceived notions about them is the “pushy trap.” It is the thought by many men, and even some women, that if a woman asserts herself during negotiations — be it for salary, assignments, etc. — she can be seen as pushy, aggressive and self-promoting.

“I asked for a mid-year raise because I had just finished a huge project and knew I was paid less than the other analysts in my office. It did not go over so well for me with my manager. I was told I was pushy and out of line.”

Studies have shown that even when men and women use the exact same words in negotiations, men are more often deemed assertive and demonstrating sound management skills, while women are perceived negatively for the same behaviors. This can be confusing to many women as to how to proceed and “once burned,” many women never speak up for themselves again.

Miller suggests using a variety of tactics to overcome this common office scenario. First, he recommends taking inventory of how negotiating for money or assignments is handled in your workplace. Is it common for people to ask for something and be considered throughout the year or only specific times during the year? Are you asking at the right time? May not be the best to ask right after your boss has just met with his/her boss, for example. And, finally, practice asking. There are many ways to phrase your ask – some people like options when they are being asked. Others prefer a more direct approach. Think about your supervisor and plan accordingly.

“You can’t get what you don’t ask for.”

When specifically contemplating a new job and related salary negotiations, make sure you don’t fall into the “unprepared trap.” Miller warns that the only way to avoid being caught off guard during salary negotiations is to learn and speak the language of money. More specifically to:

  • Know your worth — what is the current value of not just your salary, but all benefits, as well as the flexibility of your schedule;
  • Know the job’s realistic pay range — does the organization ever hire above the starting pay? Mid-range, etc.?;
  • Incorporate other benefits (leave time, professional development, etc.) into your calculations before finalizing any deals.

Finally, learning the psychology behind negotiation discussions may inform the way you negotiate everything from the starting salary at your new job to getting your toddler into bed on time every night. The psychology of negotiations will be the topic of our next article in this series.

In the meantime, here are some resources related to today’s article, as well some more tips from practitioners in local government:

A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating

Getting to YES

Know Your Worth, Get Your Worth


Today’s Negotiating Tips From

Christa Johnson, Assistant City Manager – Laguna Beach, CA

What techniques do you use when negotiating a higher salary or other benefits with your boss?

Christa: The main way I’ve been successful in negotiating for myself over the years is time off from work which is as important to me as financial compensation. Earlier in my career, I negotiated for two five-month (unpaid) maternity leaves by mentoring two people in the organization to be able to fill in for me as Acting during my absence. I had to convince the City Manager that the backfill program would succeed. Each of the women who took on the Acting assignment has continued on with a successful career in local government and I like to think their time “Acting” was beneficial.

More recently, one of my goals was to convince the City Manager to support a 9/80 Work Schedule for city hall employees which I believe is beneficial to employees and to the community. It took a few years to achieve this goal but it’s working well now.  Both these examples required perseverance and strategic planning on my part. I enlisted support from senior managers and showed how the programs benefitted the organization and the community.

How have you been able to negotiate a great assignment/special project in your organization or past organization? What advice do you have to others who are ready for such an assignment, but don’t quite know how to get the assignment?

Christa: You have to let it be known that you have an interest, are competent, and are willing to do the extra work involved in taking on a new assignment. I am convinced that 99% of managers want to help people develop professionally, but some are just clueless and they need to be specifically asked for assignments.  We are each in charge of our professional destiny and it’s incumbent on us to vocalize our interest, make suggestions, make reasonable requests for professional development opportunities, and follow-up with people who provide these opportunities or that can share information that can help us grow and advance in this fantastic profession.

*Other information from US Department of Labor related to 9/80 schedules.


Christa Johnson began her career in the hospitality industry working for the Pebble Beach Resorts. Her career then brought her further north working in public relations for an environmental education non-profit organization in the Marin Headlands.  Her first position in the public sector was with the Alameda County Public Works Agency as a management analyst.  Prior to joining the Town of Windsor as Assistant Town Manager in 2006 she worked with the City of Alameda as the Assistant to the City Manager for eight years.  In Windsor, Christa focused on the areas of redevelopment, economic development, and solid waste management. In September 2011, Christa accepted the Assistant City Manager position in Laguna Beach. Currently, Christa oversees the Community Services Department, the Cultural Arts Department, Personnel and Risk Management, and many special projects and programs such as economic development, property acquisition, and City Council priorities such as planning bicycle and pedestrian improvements to the Laguna Canyon Road Corridor.

Christa has a BA in Political Science from University of California Santa Barbara and a Masters in Public Administration from San Francisco State University. She is married and has two school-aged children.  In what little spare time she has she enjoys adventuring with her family, reading newspapers, and exercising!

Pamela Antil has over 25 years of experience directly managing and advising local government agencies across the country including small and large cities such as San Jose, CA, Ann Arbor, MI and Palo Alto, CA.  Currently, she is the Assistant City Administrator for the City of Santa Barbara, CA. Ms. Antil has been recognized for her published articles and papers on a variety of topics including advancing women in local government; the future of policing in the United States; business networking; innovation and design thinking; post-merger/operational due diligence in the private sector; and use of social media by local government. An avid networker herself and early adopter of social media in government, Ms. Antil founded the Municipal Managers group on LinkedIn in 2007, which has over 12,000 members today and the League of Women in Government in 2015, supporting the advancement of women in local government.

Pam is an active member of the International City/County Management Association, Cal-ICMA, Alliance for Innovation, Municipal Management Assistants of Northern & Southern California, BJA Executive Session on Police Leadership, Emerging Local Government Leaders as well as serves as Vice President for Women Leading Government CA and President of the League of Women in Government. She is a 2016 and 2017 ELGL Top 100 Influencer in Local Government Traeger Award winner. Pam has a Bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University and a Master of Public Administration degree from California State University. She is the mother of two children, Sydney and Peyton, and she resides in Santa Barbara, California.