Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before.
Women don’t negotiate for what they want lest they come off as pushy, demanding, selfish, or impolite — and lose the job to someone “nicer” who will work for less. Or to someone male.
Raise your other hand if that’s been you.
The truth is, women face huge cultural pressure to play nice, especially when it comes to their careers. (Remember a couple of years ago, when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he thought women should trust the system to give them the right raises at the right time? Yeah, me too. He apologized, for what it’s worth.) And our country’s long history of paying women less than men for similar work means that even if you do negotiate your salary, you’re fighting against a legacy of lower pay because of your gender.
The Massachusetts legislature recently passed a law to combat this double whammy of wage inequality. Starting in 2018, as Business News Daily reports, the new law “will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant's worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.” This will put less importance on an applicant’s salary history or negotiation skills, and more on work skills, experience, and value to the hiring company.
That’s great for women in the Bay State. As for the rest of us? Until the Massachusetts law is replicated nationwide, we need to keep finding that negotiation sweet spot where we confidently advocate for what we want without tanking the hiring process relationships.
It’s not fair and it is complicated, but women are nothing if not brilliant at finding their way through tight spots. Here are four tips to get you started.
Get hold of your head
As entrepreneur Gary Coxe put it in an interview with WOTC contributor Terri Trespicio, “we waste most of our time with unnecessary emotions and thoughts.” So, yes, the negotiation deck may be stacked against you, but the stories, feelings, and beliefs in your own head play as big a role in how you present and advocate for yourself.
If you need to talk through your fears, do it. If you need professional counseling around these beliefs, get it. The greater specificity you have about the stuff going on in your head, the more power you will have to rewire your long-held beliefs and negative stories about negotiation, money, yourself, and so on.
Jan Bruce, CEO of mequilibrium.com, counsels people heading into any charged conversation to “lose the emotional reasoning: Sometimes what you think of as ‘reason’ is just a knee-jerk response to feelings you have, and the thoughts that triggered them. If you should start to get angry, for example, you might be thinking the other person’s taking advantage of you. Breathe and observe.”
Stop thinking it’s about what you’re worth
WOTC contributor Trespicio realized a few years ago that she had a fundamental fact of negotiation turned upside down. As so many women do, she was conflating her personal worth with what people were willing to pay her. “It was a huge relief because I’ve spent too much time worrying that either I wasn’t worth much, or I was so good no one could afford me,” she writes.
This “do you like me? am I good enough?” approach to negotiating is an absolute no-win, whether it’s subtext or a flaming emotional need. “It treats the proposal (or salary or raise) like an allowance, one that you ‘deserve’ because you were a good girl,” Trespicio says. “Ick.”
Think of yourself as the entrepreneur of your career
Say you’re an entrepreneur opening an apple fritter stand at a farmer’s market. You’d run that baked good and that market through so much research the fritter would look like applesauce by the end. That’s a good thing! You want to know what fritters are selling for in this town, who buys them, and what kind of fritter they will love—nay, the fritter they will need! You don’t expect your customers to tell you who you are or what your business is or how much to charge. That’s up to you.
This is exactly how you need to look at your career. Your product is your skills, experience, and value to your company. And you must learn to accurately gauge what your services are worth in the marketplace at hand (the company), so that when the hiring director offers less than you want, you have the research to confidently make your case for the higher price. (Check out these resources from Six-Figure Start on how to research the value of your services and how to operate from desire, not desperation, in a negotiation.)
Remember, this or that company is not the ultimate gatekeeper or authority on your career. This job might be a big help or a huge break. But at end of the day, in the middle of a negotiation, the one running the business of you is you.