Adapted from Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman by Liz O’Donnell. Copyright 2013. Printed with permission of Bibliomotion.
While it can be empowering to view negotiation as something we can do for the greater good, it’s still difficult to discount the fear of backlash. A 2005 study by Hannah Riley Bowles, Linda Babcock, and Lei Lai for the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University confirmed that women are penalized for initiating negotiations. So what can we do about it?
Carol Frohlinger, co-founder of Negotiating Women Inc., says we need to be careful about what she calls career-limiting moves. “I’d say that the first thing people have to understand is, although companies have policies that are designed to allow for workplace flexibility, if you are interested in keeping your career on track, you have to know what you want.”
She says to consider whether the policies meet your long-term goals as well as your short-term goals. “I believe there is still a stigma attached to taking advantage of these policies but I certainly don’t think doing so has to be a death knell to one’s career. Many company policies are now broader, and don’t focus exclusively on mothers. They may include accommodations for dads as well as for those who may have caregiving responsibilities for elderly relatives. But when you look at the numbers, 95 per cent of the workers who take advantage of policies such as these are working mothers. Because of that, the decision to use them requires that you consider carefully how it will be viewed by your organization. Some organizations will consider it a forgivable sin, but it’s a sin nonetheless. If you do decide to take advantage, be sure to think about what you can do to make the implementation easier for your boss and your colleagues. You’ll be forgiven much more quickly if you do.”
Flextime Requires Flexibility
When women are negotiating, says Frohlinger, they need to remember to think through the benefits to the other party. In other words, if you are negotiating to work more flexibly, understand that success requires flexibility on both sides. “Let’s assume you decide that you want to work fewer hours,” she says. “You really do need to understand how you can propose to make it work for your particular group. Just saying, I’m going to take the three-day-a-week flavour, without being prepared to be very specific about how you suggest that your work will be covered, probably won’t work.”
Then there is the issue of women who go part time but end up working full time, at a reduced rate, a common concern among the women I spoke with. “Well, I think you have to manage your time in such a way that it meets your needs overall,” says Frohlinger, “and I can tell you from my own experience, when you’re a working mother it’s not easy to separate your personal life from your professional life.”
Another fear women shared with me as I talked with them about trying to make career and home work better together was the idea that in order to negotiate at work, you have to be a perfect employee. “It’s always easier to negotiate if you’re an incredible talent and can’t be replaced,” says Frohlinger, “but most of us are not in that situation. So come prepared with all of your information. If you’re not feeling strong and organized on a particular day, don’t negotiate. Postpone. It’s really important to not negotiate without doing the homework.” …
Negotiation Is a Process, Not an Event
Frohlinger cautions that women need to know that people don’t expect them to negotiate, so they should be aware, like the study suggests, that they might get push back. But, she says, “‘No’ isn’t necessarily the end. To try to go in and negotiate increased compensation and to think of it as one and done is many times not realistic … in most companies it just doesn’t happen that way. Negotiating for compensation or flexibility or any one of a number of things that will make you more satisfied is like tax planning; you’ve got to do it all year long. You don’t wait until December 31 and say, I should open an IRA.”
Men, for their part, can work to be more aware of the danger zone women enter when they negotiate, and adopt win-win attitudes. I can recall at least three instances in which I sat across the desk from different men discussing compensation, and I could sense a twinkle in their eyes, almost as if they viewed the negotiation as a game. I, on the other hand, viewed it as a make-or-break moment. I matched the men’s confidence with false bravado and succeeded in two of the three discussions. But who knows how much I might have left on the table. The goal is for more men and women to approach negotiation as a win-win exercise.
Years ago, during a particularly stressful time in my career, I worked with a coach. I was young and had a very demanding boss, and I was having a hard time setting boundaries. I was exhausted and emotional as I told the coach about the challenges I was facing. The coach gave me some useful advice to use when I approached my boss about what I needed. She had me point to the table in the conference room and say, “This is a table.” The statement was so neutral, so noncontroversial. It was almost impossible to attach any feeling to an inanimate object and a statement that was so matter of fact. She made me repeat the phrase several times, and then coached me on what I was going to say to my boss with the same lack of emotion and feelings of detachment from what I was saying. To this day, when I find my emotions clouding my conversations, I try to remind myself, “This is a table.” If we can stick to the facts, rather than the feelings, our chances of striking a win-win solution increase.
Liz O’Donnell is the founder of Hello Ladies, an award-winning blog delivering news and information to smart, busy women and named one of the top 100 websites for women by Forbes.