Last month, I spoke on a panel at Mother: The Summit — a full-day conference and interactive experience that empowers women to find sustainable solutions in career and motherhood. Over four hundred women packed into Detroit’s Garden Theater to learn from thought leaders, successful entrepreneurs and industry powerhouses.
Every session provided a unique take on how to achieve success as a mother and professional in today’s workforce, but there was one theme that arose in every conversation: Understanding your value and knowing how to ask for what you want. In a culture where women continue to face obstacles in the form of bias and inequality, it’s important that women know they are worthy of success and support—and that they know how to ask for it. Here are five ways to ask for (and get) more at work:
1. Find a workplace that matches your values.
First, when you are on the job hunt, communicate your standards and find an employer whose values align with your own. Companies often throw around the phrase “cultural fit,” and you too should make no qualms about knowing what you stand for, which expectations you will abide by and which ones you will not. View your employment relationship as you would any other relationship. Don’t tolerate an abusive, suffocating work environment simply because you are being paid to do so. Steer clear of employers with reputations for demoralizing their workforce. Moreover, don’t just take an employer's word for it. Speak with current and past employees. Check out their reviews online. Choose a work environment where you will truly thrive.
2. Don’t apologize.
Second, don’t apologize for asking for what you want. Approach your requests with confidence and assuredness. There are a lot of institutional barriers for women that don’t exist for men. The traditional workforce was designed for a time when women stayed home and men went to work. Things like adequate maternity leave, pregnancy and lactation accommodations, and flexible schedules for dual-career couples are vital for a modern, inclusive workforce. Instead of worrying about disrupting norms that serve to leave women behind, ask for what you need to perform your job successfully — and do it without apology.
3. Treat every request like a formal negotiation.
Moreover, when you ask for a new request or accommodation, be sure to treat it like the professional query that it is. In other words, it’s a business negotiation — not a personal favor. Approach the matter as you would any other negotiation. Do your research. Come up with Plans A, B and C. Know your audience. If your manager is someone who is persuaded by stats and data, then ensure your proposal includes measurable information in your favor. For example, if you are asking to work from home two days per week, include studies and empirical evidence that shows how remote work can boost employee productivity. Be prepared to submit revised offers and recruit teammates for your cause. Remember: you're not asking for special treatment. You're looking to create a culture of collaboration.
4. Know your rights.
You should also know your rights as an employee with respect to parental leave, pregnancy, workplace lactation rights, disabilities and more. Pursuing accommodation requests for pregnancy-related medical conditions or requesting time and privacy for pumping may feel daunting, which makes it all the more important for you to know what the law guarantees. There are many employees who fairly accommodate their workers; however, there are also many who do not. Knowledge is power, so be sure to enter these conversations with knowledge of your rights.
5. Craft an exit strategy.
Finally, don’t be afraid to kick a toxic employer to the curb. Leaving a job and finding new work can feel like a daunting task. However, sometimes leaving a workplace is necessary for your survival. When seeking sustainable solutions in work and parenthood, you need 360 degrees of support. Finding a new job may take time, but the investment in yourself and your career is worth it. Know your value and know when it is time to ask for more.