Are Women Selling Themselves Short in the Workplace?


5 tips for negotiating what you deserve.

Negotiation is something professional women do every day and you probably think you’re pretty good at it. I’ll bet you’re great at representing your clients, team or organisation – pulling out all the stops to make sure they get what they deserve. But when it comes to your own interests, are you as effective as a negotiator?

Maybe you feel it’s too pushy and undignified to negotiate assertively on your own behalf – yet you wouldn’t think twice about doing this for someone else.

If so, you’re not alone. A study by Carnegie Mellon University showed that 57% of men negotiated to improve the terms of their first job offer but only 7% of women did so.

There is a good reason for this.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, women who negotiate assertively on their own behalf are judged by both men and women as being pushy, in a way that men are not. She calls this the “social cost” of negotiation.  You may instinctively fear this and decide to gratefully accept what you are offered rather than trying to improve it.

If this is you, here are some tips on how you can get as good a deal for yourself as you do for others:

  1. See yourself as your “client”. Imagine you are representing someone else and think about how you would go about it. Create a project plan and give it the same attention you would for someone else.
  2. Get support. Find someone you trust and get them to be your negotiation buddy. Work out your strategy with them and rehearse how you will ask for what you want. Get them to hold you accountable for speaking up for yourself.
  3. Enlist your “virtual team”: When I have a challenging communication to make I think about my role models (could be Maya Angelou or a host of others) and imagine them standing behind me in the meeting. It makes a huge difference!
  4. Give a rationale for your point of view. According to research in Lean In, people react better to requests if they are offered a principled reason for it e.g: “salary surveys show people at my level of experience are earning £x” rather than baldly stating: “I want x”.
  5. Show that you value the relationship. Women are expected to be relational so framing your request in terms of how it will support a good working relationship will make a big difference e.g. “I want us to get off to a flying start when I come and work for you and for us both to feel good about the terms we have agreed”.

By making these changes to how you negotiate you can get significantly better results and still be popular with your colleagues.

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By Liz Rivers

Liz Rivers is a member of the CEDR faculty and is an international leadership coach, mediator and former City lawyer. She specialises in coaching senior and rising women in how to lead and influence with purpose, power and presence. An expert in the somatic aspects of leadership, her insightful coaching helps women to reach leadership positions, to make the most of their influence and to get their voices heard in the situations where it matters. Liz has recently led a Women’s Leadership programme in Geneva for the World Trade Organisation. She is a frequent expert contributor on BBC Radio and her work has been featured in The Guardian. She is leading Hope is not a strategy! A Masterclass on negotiation skills for professional women on 22 September with Susanne Schuler, Assistant Director of Training.


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