How women can negotiate like a boss

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How is it that women hold almost 52% of professional-level jobs, yet only make up 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners, and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs?

The statistics are startling, but not necessarily surprising. As a 38-year-old female president of a growing insurance business, I often find myself the youngest person and only female at the negotiating table. And all too often, that table is a classic boys’ club scenario: golf, dinner and drinks.

When up against insurmountable odds, there is only one thing to do: woman up! Dig deeper and fight harder, whether it's negotiating compensation or closing a business deal.

Here are a few negotiating strategies to help women to level the playing field:

1) Be brave enough to ask. It may or may not be surprising that men are four times more likely to ask for a salary raise than women. After hiring two interns to full-time positions, one male, one female, both directly out of college, the female was happy to accept a $2 increase from her internship rate, while the male asked for a $9 increase in hourly pay, and walked away with a $7 increase. Without a doubt, the acceptance offer is one of the most important areas to negotiate. Every subsequent pay raise, bonus and future salary negotiating will be based off that initial offer, and so many women lose out on millions of dollars in potential earnings over the lifetime by not negotiating salary in the beginning of their career.

2) Know your worth. Negotiating salary begins with knowing your worth and refusing to settle for less. Do the research, know the comparative salaries and be reasonable. Remember to go beyond a basic search of popular salary websites and look at the whole compensation package. Understand options available for your position or role, and review hidden perks and compensation in items like vacation, flexible scheduling, equity options, tuition assistance and subsidies for housing and transportation to be fully prepared for the negotiation process.

3) Learn to say no. Women in the United States spend 242 minutes (4 hours) per day on unpaid work, while male counterparts spend only 148 minutes (2.5 hours) per day on unpaid work, according to a comprehensive research study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. As a busy executive and working mom, there is an endless barrage of requests to ‘pitch in’ here, or ‘pick your brain’ for this project, or lead a volunteer group for a school or community activity, and that is on top of full-time work and full-time parent responsibilities. At the end of the day, there are limits to everyone’s capacity to give. Ultimately, it is about taking control of your time and energy, saying no when necessary, and giving priority to the people and work that matter most.

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4) Know when to walk away. Popularly quoted in Lean In, a Hewlett Packard internal report found that “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” This statistic alone should be a wake-up call to women to put themselves out there and take more risks to make things happen. At the same time, when fighting for equal opportunity or entering a major business deal, it is also important to be fully ready with a clear bottom line, and a willingness to walk away if necessary. As a negotiation unfolds, deal breakers will arise, a bottom line is passed, or things reach a standstill. In these times, walking away with integrity can be the best option.

5) Practice and persist. It takes time to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations, but the only path is through. Avoiding, withdrawing, or waiting for things to happen is a surefire way to get nowhere. Women especially shy away from negotiating for fear of how they will be perceived, and compromise as a way of coming across as agreeable. Women say that their uneasiness with this process is the reason they didn’t negotiate 31% of the time, whereas men only reference the same reasoning 23% of the time, according to a PayScale Salary Survey. Unfortunately, women’s fears are not unfounded in this instance. A recent study by the Cass Business School in London, the University of Warwick in the U.K., and the University of Wisconsin, revealed that women were 25% less likely than men to get a hike in pay when they asked for it. To negotiate requires assertiveness and initiative, and workplace culture and society still have a long way to go in getting comfortable with strong, confident women leaders.

These are lessons learned from experience in both successful and not-so-successful negotiations over time. Before diving into uncharted territory, it is extremely helpful to consult with a mentor or trusted adviser with specific experience or expertise. With a healthy dose of collaboration, mentorship and support, women can work together to continue chipping away at that glass ceiling, closing the wage gap and opening doors for our daughters and future leaders.

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