According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, just under a third of American physicians are women. Even with such widespread representation in the field, women still face unique challenges when compared to their male counterparts. The most well-known issue is the wage gap, but another distinct issue that female physicians encounter involves contract negotiation and review. To better prepare you for meeting these unique challenges, we have outlined the five keys to maximizing your contract value.
Researching your salary range, as well as other benefits you may deserve, is crucial. As previously mentioned, female physicians are not immune to the pay gap that exists between women and men throughout many industries. In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study earlier this year that revealed female physicians are paid approximately $20,000 less than male physicians on average. This is after accounting for other factors such as age, specialty, experience and productivity measures. Leveraging the knowledge of these disparities can be very helpful in negotiating for compensation that reflects your value and ensures that you are not being undercompensated just because of your gender.
Once you determine a reasonable range for your salary, try to aim above what you might be expecting to receive. This technique can potentially increase your salary offer, as it frames your salary expectations within a higher range. However, make sure the number you initially ask for is justified. For example, if you are asking for a 20% higher salary than the median for your specialty then you have a much greater chance of achieving a salary bump than if you request a salary 100% greater than the median. A huge disparity between your request and the actual median may make you may seem unreasonable and unprepared for the negotiation process. It can sometimes be difficult strike the proper balance, but can be well worth it if you can drive your offer up by a few thousand dollars.
Consider Alternative Perspectives
Another key to maintaining this balance is understanding the viewpoint of the organization with which you are negotiating. If you are wanting to work for a community clinic or a small rural hospital, they may be somewhat limited in what they can offer you in terms of salary. Yet, working for employers such as these may qualify you for certain loan forgiveness plans and other valuable benefits, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This ties into the research stage of negotiation, as you must know both general information about what you deserve as well as information about what the specific organization can offer you. Finding common goals and “win-win” situations between you and a potential employer is essential to a successful negotiation.
Maternity Leave for Physicians
There is much more to contract negotiation than just getting the salary you want. Benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans and loan repayment assistance can create substantial added value to your contract. One specific benefit that may be appealing to female physicians is maternity leave. The current federal law states that if you have worked at your present organization for at least a year and the organization employs at least 50 workers, you are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Some organizations can also utilize a short-term disability plan to cover your paid leave because disability can technically include childbirth and postpartum recovery. Be wary of short term disability plans though, as you may have to pay for the premiums or even purchase the policy yourself if the employer is not willing to pick up the tab.
While only 16% of private organizations offer paid maternity leave, some organizations will still offer to pay a portion of your time away, usually four to six weeks of this 12-week period. Going three months with one less source of income can be very challenging for most families, which is why it is vital for you to broach the subject of maternity leave and try to get the most paid leave time that you can.
Once you have considered all perspectives and identified your specific contract goals, it is important that you assert yourself in the negotiation process. This does not necessarily mean you must be aggressive, but you must not back down from achieving your contract goals. In many cases, a contract attorney will handle much of the contract negotiation proceedings. However, you must be familiar with each step of the process, especially if you are negotiating on your own behalf.
Female physicians face several different challenges when it comes to negotiating the terms of a contract. By doing some research, acting cooperatively yet remaining assertive, and diligently working through each piece of the contract, you can maximize the value of your contract and build the foundation for successful employment.