In the spirit of Women’s History Month, these March blog posts have been all about sharing #herstory and celebrating all things womanhood, but sometimes a little tough love needs to go along with all the boss babe hashtags and “you-go-girl”s.
Consider yourself a boss babe? How bout them negotiation skills? If you’re like 60-70% of women, they’re either pretty awful or non-existent. But trust that I’m not here to hate on you; there’s enough girl-on-girl bashing going down on social media as it is. I want you to join me in calling this issue out as a real (but not the only) hurdle to closing the gender pay gap, and then working together in solidarity to FIX IT. Because that’s what women do: we fix shit.
Here’s what women don’t do: negotiate. There’s no real need to argue that point because it’s been documented to death, and the statistics are UGLY. On average, less than 30% of women bother to negotiate salary or benefits at their jobs. Like, EVER. Compared with over 60% of men who do it on the regular. I’ve seen enough of it firsthand while serving my 12 year sentence in Corporate America and I’d even go a step further and say that there are plenty of other non-work-related things that women don’t bother to negotiate, even though they absolutely CAN and SHOULD. Why is this important to call out? Because we want equality…we deserve equality…but it’s not going to just fall out of the sky and land in our laps. The good ol’ boys who dominate leadership roles aren’t going to just wake up one day and realize that women have been getting shafted for decades, so they’d better start making it up to them. Pretty sure the odds of that happening are slim. If we want equality, we have to be willing to fight for it, and part of that fight involves changing what we already have the greatest control over: our own actions and attitudes when it comes to ASKING FOR WHAT WE WANT.
I think it’s safe to say we typically have no problem advocating for others. We advocate for our kids’ safety and education, we advocate for the men in our lives, we advocate for community causes, we advocate for animals who can’t speak for themselves, we advocate for other women who are treated unjustly. But when it comes to advocating for ourselves, why do we consistently drop the ball?
This is not a rhetorical question. We need to open the debate, not about whether this is happening, but why it’s happening. And if you’re on the fence about the “whether”, ask yourself when’s the last time you…
…didn’t accept the first salary that was offered to you by an employer, but instead, pushed for a higher number (even if you weren’t successful)?
…directly asked your boss for a promotion or raise?
…told a salesperson the price of <awesome thing> was too high and asked whether they’d be willing to accept less?
…asked your boss for a flexible work arrangement so that you could take your kid to baseball practice, or take a class for yourself, or just plain avoid a miserable commute?
…asked your credit card company or loan officer for a lower interest rate?
…told a teacher/trainer/professor/boss/WHATEVER that you didn’t agree with their shitty evaluation of your work?
…asked for a lower price on a car?
…asked a store to price-match an online retailer selling that same <favorite thing> for $30 less?
…told your cable or internet provider that you’re tired of paying obscene prices and threaten to “Netflix and bail” if they can’t discount your rate?
Now ask a dude those same questions and see how different his responses are.
This has nothing to do with intelligence or cunning or courage. Women possess all of those qualities and more, but whyyyyyyyyy do we fall into the trap of selling ourselves short when our money, image, and reputation are on the line? Maybe it’s for that exact reason; because we know our money, image and reputation are on the line and we’re afraid of jeopardizing everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve. Example: if we ask for a raise, our boss will think we’re greedy. If we ask for flex time, everyone will think we’re not dedicated to our job. If we ask for a lower price, the salesperson will think we’re cheap or poor. If we are too aggressive at the negotiating table, we’ll be considered rude or classless. If we say we disagree with an evaluation, we’ll be undermining someone else’s authority and expertise.
STOP IT. Just STOP. The only thing women do better than trying to fix everything, is overanalyze everything. And maybe society has played a role in why we do that, but there comes a point where we can’t continue to blame society for all our woes. If men have evolved to the point where they no longer feel the need to pound their chests and club anything that challenges them, I think we can move beyond our own stereotypes and outdated standards.
Before escaping from corporate prison, I took some big risks that ended up paying off. Not because I’m some super rad negotiator, but mainly because I was so miserable in my career that I felt I had very little to lose. Plus, I kinda get off on confrontation (it’s a weird fetish, don’t judge me) and have pretty much made it my mission in life to challenge with the status quo. Perhaps that gave me a natural advantage, idk, whatever. So I negotiated a 30% raise. I asked for a promotion when my bosses failed to offer me one. At one point I was even able to negotiate my own layoff and exit package, even though it had been my idea to leave. My rationale was always the same: the worst they can say is no. But they rarely did.
I *think* a friend of mine was trying to pay me a compliment when he once told me, “wow, you negotiate like a man”, to which the only appropriate response would have been, “and you stereotype like an asshole.” And yet, an asshole that’s not necessarily wrong.
I wish I could say that the situation is much different in the world of creatives and small business owners, but sadly, it’s not. Even though it’s 100x more important in that world for women to know their worth, price themselves accordingly, negotiate deals that are in their best self-interest, and be aggressive in asking for discounts and lower expenses because their livelihood literally DEPENDS ON IT.
We desperately need a meeting of the minds on this. Equal pay and equal treatment cannot be achieved without equal effort. Men are beginning to take responsibility for the role they’ve played in holding women back, so we as women need to take responsibility for not doing enough to push ourselves forward. Enough of what? I’m glad you asked. Get your tush to that negotiating table at every given opportunity. Doesn’t matter if it’s at your job, a car dealership, on the phone with the cable company, at the bank, in front of a potential client, or in the shoe department of Macy’s. If you get shot down 10 times, it only matters that you keep going back. Eventually you will find your groove. Eventually you will get the response you’re looking for. Eventually other women will see you and go, “hey, I need to start doing more of that.” (Because we won’t be outdone.) Eventually people will stop saying dumb shit like, “that chick’s got balls” or “great job negotiating like a man” and instead just congratulate us on advocating for ourselves.
Until that blissful day, all we can do is to do what we can. Which is why I first started offering “negotiation coaching” as one of my business services. Friends and co-workers were coming to me for advice, so I thought, why not charge for it? But yo, it’s the wrong approach. This information needs to be freely and broadly shared if it’s ever going to make a difference. And I firmly believe that if you’re not actively part of the solution, you’re passively part of the problem. So starting today I’ve decided to offer free 1-hour negotiation coaching sessions for any woman who needs either general advice in this area (like, what the hell should I be negotiating?), or a strategy for a specific type of negotiation (as in, how the hell can I ask for a 30% raise?).
I’ve got your back if you’ve got mine. Let’s push forward together.