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Negotiation and strategy February 14, 2023

Frank talk about women, money, and promotion

Black woman talking at meeting
Many women report experiencing gender bias and discrimination in the workplace, which can include being passed over for promotions, being paid less than male counterparts, and facing greater challenges in proving their competence and worth.

The research supports the anecdotes. In salary and compensation, particularly, the gender pay gap remains the most obvious and persistent inequity – across national borders, industries, and organizational levels and even when factoring in education levels and professional experiences.

Helping women become better in negotiation is an urgent and essential task. Research has shown that when ambiguity and certain triggers (e.g., gendered language) are reduced, negotiation outcomes are equal for all negotiators. Yet we have learned through our work with female executives that, like all DEI efforts, it involves capability building both at the institutional and individual level. Organizations can become better in promoting women, and women can better negotiate on their own behalf.

On the institutional side, organizations should prioritize strategies that bring more women onto corporate boards, create equal opportunities for informal networking, and other well-documented and proven approaches to mitigating gender bias and helping women succeed in their leadership roles. However, in the absence of institutional support, women must also step forward on their own behalf to negotiate for their career success.

Practice the ask

It seems obvious, but most people learn too late that almost everything in life and work is negotiable. In “Women Don't Ask,” economist and Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda C. Babcock cites research that shows women are less likely to negotiate for things like higher salaries, promotions, and other opportunities because of gendered societal norms that discourage them from doing so. Most women are shocked to learn that they could be leaving on the table between $1 million and $1.5 million in lost earnings over their lifetime by not negotiating their first salary. This awareness would prompt many to rethink why they have been postponing the overdue talk with the supervisor on adjusting the salary to match their contribution level.

It also helps to know that, like doing a physical workout, negotiation is a skill that can be improved with practice. Babcock encourages women to create the opportunities to do so, such as negotiating with a car dealer or trying to get a discount on a purchase. Instead of negotiating for more, the first meaningful exercise for many is to negotiate “no.” Saying no to non-value-adding tasks is a huge first win for strategic career progression.

Speak about your organizational worth

Having a clear understanding of your skills, experience, and most importantly value to the company can increase your confidence in negotiating. Be prepared to detail your major accomplishments and to demonstrate how your work has contributed to the organization’s bottom line, such as by increasing profits, improving efficiency, or saving time or resources. Your organizational intelligence on the company’s financial performance, priorities, and growth plans can make a compelling case for why you deserve a raise – also making it easier for your supervisor to make the case for the salary increase.

Be clear, concise, and direct

Yes, women must balance likability and competence. But are you clear in expressing what you want? Can you state your needs simply so that supervisors can carry forward your demands without them being lost in interpretation?

When negotiating, your relationship with the counter negotiator is important. But so too is the perception of your strength. Use specific examples and data to support your points. Be unafraid and assertive in asking for exactly what you want. One of the best tips we heard from a female executive in our negotiation programs is “Don't hint and hope. Be crystal clear with your ask.” Earlier in her career, her supervisor asked if she would be interested in a director-level position. Fearing appearing greedy, she replied with “when I feel ready.” Her supervisor interpreted that as not wanting the position enough, and her easiest chance for a promotion was lost.

Seek support

Be proactive in seeking out people you admire and respect for guidance and support. Mentors can provide valuable insight on a range of issues, including how to negotiate salary and promotions, how to manage work-life balance, and how to build and maintain relationships with colleagues and clients. Heidi Roizen is a successful technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist who has spoken and written extensively about the importance of mentorship for women in the tech industry. Roizen has emphasized the value of having a strong and diverse network of mentors to support and advise women as they navigate their careers. Especially in areas where women remain grossly underrepresented, such as venture capitalism, having a mentor means having someone who has “been there and done that” in your corner. Also find sponsors, who can act as brand managers and publicists to manage others’ views on your performance and competence.

Women, invest time and gain company support in becoming better negotiators. Even now, we see (many) more men in negotiation trainings than women, although the best life-changing stories are coming from women – some negotiated an overdue pay rise, others changed jobs after trying their best within their own organization, etc. The best part is how women unselfishly sharing their newly gained knowledge with others, coaching their partners, colleagues, and friends in negotiating better.

Overall, these tips can help you become a more effective negotiator in the workplace and a better advocate for yourself and your career goals.


This article was originally published by Forbes on January 23, 2023, and republished with permission. 

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