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How to excel at negotiating as a woman

WOMAN NEGOTIATING
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You don't have to negotiate "like a man" to get what you deserve at work.

When actresses Michelle Williams and Jennifer Lawrence discovered that they were being paid a lot less than their male co-stars, they put a fresh spotlight on the ongoing issue of pay inequality. And their experiences resonated because they were just two high-profile cases that echo what many other women in more ordinary contexts have experienced.

On the one hand, we could say the world is unfair and demand that it change. But there is also another side to the story: sometimes we will get only as much as we’re willing to ask for. And that requires three things: a knowledge of what our work is worth, a willingness to advocate for ourselves, and the skill to do it well.

Unfortunately, most research today suggests that women are not as willing or skilled at negotiating as men. One study found that men initiate negotiations four times more often than women and that women negotiators generally achieve 30 percent less than male negotiators. It also found that 20 percent of women don’t negotiate at all, even when they know they probably should.

Women negotiate best when it’s for their loved ones

But there’s hope! The same study also found that women are just as effective as men when they are negotiating not just for themselves, but for their friends or for people they care about. Dr. Hilla Dotan, of the Coller School of Management in Tel Aviv, found that “what’s important for women is the sense of fighting for others, for their friends, for something bigger than themselves.”

Stanford professor Margaret Neale also says that women can overcome that mental hurdle of “I hate negotiating” if they focus on who they are doing it for: their family.

Not a battle, but a collaboration

Another key mental shift that can help women is to change our understanding of negotiation is this: it’s not about going into battle or engaging in a zero-sum game of win or lose. Rather, it’s about a shared exercise in problem-solving, which means looking for a creative win-win solution to the needs on both sides of the table. And women may find that this collaborative mindset comes more naturally to them.

So when you negotiate your next salary, don’t think you have to negotiate like a man in order to be heard. You don’t have to drive a hard bargain and intimidate the other side. You can be firm and savvy, but also agile and smart in the way you advocate for yourself.

Four steps to a successful negotiation

Natalie Reynolds, who teaches women negotiating tactics through her company, Advantage Spring, and who also authored a book called We Have a Deal: How to Negotiate With Intelligence, Flexibility, and Power, offers an easy way to remember the key principles for a successful negotiation as a woman:

The four steps are captured in the acronym REAP, in the sense that you “reap” what you sow in a salary negotiation. REAP stands for Research, Establish, Ask, and Persevere.

Research

You absolutely cannot walk into a negotiation of any kind without doing your homework. If you’re negotiating a salary, you need to know the industry standard and craft a clear and documented case for your own worth against that scale. (It’s not that your worth as a person can be summed up by your salary, but that the value of your contributions at the workplace can be objectively quantified.) That’s your number. It’s not about emotions or feelings, and there is no place for imposter syndrome here. It’s just what the standard is, and where your past achievements put you.

Also consider what your employer wants to achieve, and how you are in a unique position to help them reach their goals. Remember, it’s a collaborative exercise in problem solving, not the Alamo. You can be kind, gracious, flexible, and cheerful – but also firm on the essential points.

Establish

The next step is to establish a target number and put boundaries around it. What is the lowest number that you will accept before you walk away? What are your non-negotiables? Do you need a certain amount of flexibility or vacation time? Do you want access to specific types of projects? You should have all of those points clear before coming to the table.

Ask

Next, tell them what you want your pay to be. Set a specific number and justify it. If they go first and the number is drastically low, don’t lower your number to meet them halfway. Instead, stick to your number and use data and evidence to support it. You may want to rehearse different scenarios before you go in so that you are mentally prepared in case they shock you with a very low number.

Persevere

Reynolds’ final recommendation is to persevere, which means don’t take a “no” as a final answer. She suggests learning how to become resilient and how to go back to the table with a creative solution or alternative to keep the conversation going. For example, if they say, “No, I can’t pay you that because you lack the experience,” you could respond with: “Thank you. I would be grateful if you could outline how I could get to the level where that salary would be justified.” If they give you some steps and pointers, you could meet those targets and come back to the negotiating table in three months for another go. It’s never over until it’s over. Again, rehearsal will help you get through the jitters of facing tense moments or walking through a “no” without caving immediately.

Have a learning mentality … and remember your “why”

Negotiation is certainly a learned skill, and we shouldn’t be too worried if it doesn’t seem to come naturally, or if it feels uncomfortable. In some ways, it’s a lot like public speaking. You suddenly feel exposed, and everything is riding on how well you know your material and can handle the pressure with good grace.

But awareness and practice can help tremendously, and so can the right motivations. Remember, if you’re negotiating a salary increase, it’s because you need it for your family – you have motivations that go beyond yourself, and that should always be front and center in your mind. People are counting on you… and you can do this!

To learn more about negotiating as a woman, feel free to visit She Negotiates and Advantage Spring. You might also want to check out the books Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — And Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.

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