Women sometimes settle for less than they could get. This happens for a number of reasons, but I don’t believe women are less skilled at negotiation. Many disadvantages can be overcome by asking the right questions and being prepared.
1. Do your homework.
When I was working full-time, once I forgot to put my pay stub away and left it in full view on my desk. Pretty soon everyone in my office knew exactly how much I made and started comparing, and I got in major trouble.
Employers can be secretive about salaries, and this can make it very difficult to find out if you’re underpaid or not. If you suspect you’re not making as much as someone else with comparable skills and employment, and asking around your workplace gets you nowhere, you could check with other people in similar professions, call recruiters at other companies, or check a salary comparison site to find out what other people who work at similar jobs are making in your area. This is also true if you’re asking for leave or less-than-typical hours—you can talk to other people who’ve been successful at negotiating what you’re asking for and find out what techniques worked for them, either in your office or elsewhere.
2. Know your value.
Despite the recession, many employers still say they have difficulty finding and keeping skilled employees. You help your company. Yes, they’re paying you, but that’s because of the value your work gives them. If your company doesn’t see how valuable your skills and assets are, it doesn’t hurt to remind them. “I’ve been working here for five years, and we’ve got lots of customers here who ask for me by name. My people skills matter to this company.” You’ll look even more impressive if you’ve got numbers to back up your assertions.
3. Show your company how meeting your needs will help them.
This is your basic win-win proposal. The idea of meeting someone else’s needs before you meet your own is not new, but employees who actually apply this concept are valuable because it’s pretty rare in a world where most people are out to help themselves.
If you start with, “I can save this company six figures this year in recruitment, hiring, and training costs, and by the way, four of my clients have promised to come back to us next year if I’m still here,” rather than, “If you can’t give me six months’ worth of paid maternity leave, I’m quitting,” you’ll probably get more results.
4. Ask for more than what you want.
This can be hard for some who worry about what will happen to their reputations as go-getters if they appear less than committed, or for others who are afraid of losing their jobs if they appear greedy. According to flexible strategy consultant Cali Williams Yost in her book Work + Life, this fear is common but largely unfounded. In her years of work with clients who negotiate a better work/life fit, she has never seen anyone be immediately fired for making such a request, and even in cases where someone is dismissed after changing their work schedule, there are other factors involved.
What can you reasonably ask for? That depends on your situation. Some negotiators recommend going only as high as the “laugh-in-your-face” level—making the highest possible request that has a chance of being taken seriously. Maybe you think asking for too much isn’t nice or polite, and that’s OK. You probably won’t get it anyway! But if you ask for what you want and nothing more, chances are you’ll end up with less than you want , and you may end up feeling cheated for not getting what you wanted from your perfectly reasonable request. If you’re hoping that you can ask for a small concession and that your boss will give you even more because you’re such a great worker, you’ll probably be waiting a long time.
5. Don’t be afraid of “no”
If your employer is unable or unwilling to give you what you ask, you still have a lot of options; in fact, a good negotiation session can serve to make those choices clearer to you. If you go into negotiation knowing in advance what concessions you are willing to accept and at what point you’ll have to walk away, negotiations will go more smoothly and you'll feel better prepared. And if things don’t even come close to going your way, what then? Are you willing to leave or change positions within the company?
In any case, asking for what you want (plus some more) gives you a better idea of whether or not your company will work with you. If they can't or won't, are the trade-offs worth it to you or could you find other opportunities elsewhere?
Only you can decide. But you’ll never know what might have been possible if you don’t ask.