Career Coach: By not pushing for what they want, women hold themselves back

By Joyce E.A. Russell
Monday, May 24, 2010; 21

A few weeks ago, Capital Business ran a story about a report that found that women still hold few executive and board positions in Maryland ["Md. women still hold few executive, board jobs," April 19]. The same story reported that Washington actually leads the nation for women in top jobs, but women are still lagging far behind men. And based on the statistics, this doesn't seem likely to change soon. For that reason, it is crucial that women understand how to wield their negotiation skills to be more successful in getting what they want in the workplace.

Many women just don't feel comfortable asking for what they want. Women don't negotiate as much as men do, and when they do, they don't ask for as much. Women are reluctant to bargain, ask for raises, promotions, better job opportunities, recognition for the good work we do -- even for more help at home. Interestingly, when it comes to negotiating for someone else, women can be tigers, often very successful for getting things for others.

Bottom line: For women to get what they want, they need to ask and to be persistent. Don't immediately back down. As a woman, when you don't negotiate, you're already starting out behind your male peers and behind where you should have been. With every future raise and job offer, you'll already be behind, and you may never catch up. So how do you ask for what you want and get it?

First off, recognize all the various opportunities that exist for negotiating. Feel confident that you deserve the change you want. Then, prepare and do your research to really pinpoint exactly what you want and why and make a strong case. Determine your market value with help from the Web, professional associations, colleagues, the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Get organized and determine your needs -- salary, benefits, vacation, travel, professional memberships, etc. Your preparation will help you to not only be more informed, but to come across more confidently in the actual negotiation. In my mind, about 70 percent of your actual success is due to your preparation before you ever even go into the negotiation.

One of the most important things for women to know is how to come across when negotiating. What may work for men -- often being assertive and boasting when negotiating -- may not work for women. Arm yourself with information, ideas and resolve and bring along an arsenal of "friendly" non-threatening social mannerisms. Be prepared to be cooperative and avoid being confrontational. This doesn't mean you should back down or give in. And above all, don't be tentative, apologetic or uncertain -- patterns many women fall into. Communicate a positive "let's-work-this-out-together" attitude. Humor helps, too. Use firm, confident tones in your discussions. Your tone and professionalism can make a big difference in your success.

For your "to-do" list: Be enthusiastic and show energy. Make it clear that you are excited and genuinely want to work there. Be able to show how you help improve an organization's bottom line (e.g., bringing new contacts, saving money, training employees). You need to make it easy for the other party to say "yes" in the negotiation. But to do this, you need to know what is important to that other party.

Don't lose sight of relationship and issue goals. Be hard on the problem and soft on the people. Approach the negotiation as a chance to share ideas with the opposing side and work together to solve problems that affect both of you. Learn about the other side, but don't feel guilty if you get what you want. Often, women are more worried about the other party than about themselves. Trust the other party to take care of himself or herself.

Before you head into a negotiation, make sure you have an alternate plan in place. Try to make that alternative as attractive as possible. This boosts your confidence and your leverage, but let the other side know about your backup plan only if it's really good.

Review all of the information you've collected. Script out what you will say and how you will say it. Practice your negotiation discussion with a friend or family member and have that person provide feedback. This will boost your confidence and get the kinks out of your negotiation plan.

Also be sure to set high targets. Think about the top thing you want to get, not the minimum you would accept, and you will tend to hold out in negotiations longer. Above all, display self-confidence when you head in to ask for what you want. Remember, you deserve it just as much as the next guy.

Joyce E.A. Russell is a Ralph H. Tyser distinguished teaching fellow at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at

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