Women today still have to overcome a spate of external hurdles in order to progress in their careers, from unconscious bias around their ability to lead to managers who mommy-track. Not helping the situation are the biases women tend to internalize — including ones having to do with negotiation.
For many women, outrightly asking for what you want may still feel like taboo ground to cover. But mastering that fear is essential if gender gaps around women’s pay and promotion practices are to close, as Fairygodboss President and Co-founder Romy Newman pointed out during a “Negotiate Your Way Up” panel at the 2019 WIN Summit in New York.
Newman quoted research from McKinsey showing that women’s likelihood of getting promoted rests largely on concrete value they’ve demonstrated in the past; men, meanwhile, are likelier to be promoted based on a manager’s perception of their future potential. This means women have to approach negotiating a promotion, for example, more stringently than men, who have the advantage of perceived “potential” in their corner.
“The only way to change that over time is to have many, many more women in management ranks making promotion decisions and remodeling what a VP looks like,” Newman said. “But what I’ve come to realize is that, until that day comes, we have to recognize in the interim that this is the environment we’re in, and we have to be prepared to work that much harder for what we want.”
To that end, Newman and her fellow panelists shared the tactics they’ve personally used to negotiate for what they want with success.
When considering whether to negotiate for something, panel moderator and Landit's Chief Business Development Officer Rachel Jacobson recommended asking yourself three questions.
“When thinking about raising your hand and taking risks, ask yourself these three questions: What’s holding you back? What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do take that risk? And, can you live with that?” Jacobson said. Forcing yourself to put the worst possible scenario of a situation into finite terms, she added, can give you perspective and help turn your answer to question No. 3 into a “yes.”
“You need to be really clear with yourself on what you want, what’s a dealbreaker, and how far you’re willing to go,” Bonnie Marcus, founder and CEO of Women’s Success Coaching, said. “What I find when working with some of my clients is that they aren’t really clear on those, and so it’s easy to be pushed aside and distracted by the other party.”
Alli McCartney, Managing Director at UBS, said that to help give her clarity on these points, she has a practice of writing them all down.
“I write down on paper who I am, what I want, what energizes me and what depletes me,” she said. “I’ve had that list since I was 22, and it’s evolved.”
As Marcus put it, doing your homework in advance of a negotiation doesn’t just mean brushing up on your own wants and goals.
“You have to do your homework on what’s happened in the company before — who already has what you’re asking for, and are there any known policies in place that may affect you?” she said. “You also need to know who you’re talking to. What are their values, what’s their personality, and what do they want to hear?”
Too often, women are the ones stopping themselves a few steps short, Newman said. To circumvent that tendency, don’t base your negotiations on what feels like the adequate or appropriate amount of effort.
“If you don’t feel like you might be overstepping, you probably aren’t pushing hard enough,” she said, adding that following this ethos not only helped her land a position she was underqualified for earlier in her career, but ultimately led to a series of five promotions in the five years after.
For many junior workers, Jacobson said, there’s a false belief that hard work will naturally lend itself to advances in pay and position without a need to negotiate or advocate for them.
“We think if we put our heads down and do a great job, everyone is going to notice our great work when actually, a quarter of your coworkers are in the boss’ office running through their list of accomplishments,” she said. “If you’re not your own best advocate, whether it’s dealing with negotiation or anything else, you’re starting at a comparative disadvantage.”
Panelist Michelle Lee, editor-in-chief at Allure, said that women can sometimes be guilty of believing their boss can “read their minds” when this isn’t true. By having a candid conversation with your manager about what you want and what it will take for you to get there, they’ll feel like they were a part of the process when it eventually comes time to negotiate.
“Lay the groundwork and don’t just ambush them with, ‘Hey, I’d like a $15K raise and a promotion,” Lee said. “When you include them on the front end, they feel like they’re a part of it.”
A few panelists testified to the fact office politics have garnered a bad rep when, in actuality, they can be seen as a useful tool for advancing one’s odds of negotiation success. As Marcus put it, it’s about being savvy, not political.
“We don’t work in a vacuum, and we don’t negotiate in a vacuum either,” she said. “You have to understand the work environment that you’re in and how best to position yourself within that environment. A lot of people think of office politics as standing around the water cooler complaining, but if you can see it as an opportunity that isn’t necessarily negative, that can help you.”
Lee agreed, saying it wasn’t until she was well into her career that she realized office politics don’t have to be toxic.
“Once you start to reframe office politics, you see it’s not like ‘Game of Thrones’ where everyone is trying to unseat each other — it’s about building relationships and managing up as well as managing down,” she said.
Newman, who described a “fear of rejection and failure” as people’s most common deterrent when considering whether to take a risk, said that becoming a sales person transformed her perspective on this fear.
“Becoming a sales person changed my life, because when you’re a sales person, you expect to get rejected,” she said. “If you haven’t failed, you’re probably not trying enough new things. You have to reboot, and you have to seek failure and rejection, because those are the stepping stones to success, learning, growth, and I think happiness, too.”