Do You Ask For More?

Women are more likely to take ‘no’ as no.
— Sara Laschever
Photo by Digital Vision./Photodisc / Getty Images
Photo by Digital Vision./Photodisc / Getty Images

Every time I see another story about women and negotiation I wonder if it isn't overkill. I've done several of these pieces myself. As the years go by and there's more and more coverage of how women are less apt to negotiate than men, and how they're judged when they do, I think, surely this topic is covered now - women and men know about this. We don't need to keep talking about it.

But we do. 

Last week I attended a conference put on by the Negotiation Institute - its entire focus was women and negotiation. There was a vast, freezing hotel ballroom full of women keen to hear more. Then last night I watched a great panel discussion at CUNY Journalism School - it was about women, pay and parity in journalism. Again the topic of negotiation came up as a major reason why female journalists are paid less than their male counterparts. Each woman on the panel had experience herself of either a) asking for less than she could have or b) accepting an offer immediately instead of negotiating. They added that along with this negotiation gap comes a confidence gap. Men generally barrel in describing in robust terms how they'll attack the job. Women are much more self-deprecating, using the conditional tense, i.e. 'I think I could do it' - a far cry from the self-assured guy.

Confidence is a whole topic to itself, but it's part of what you may need to fake to negotiate. Women are often perceived differently (less positively) than men when they ask for more - especially if they push hard. But just because that's the case, it doesn't mean they shouldn't bother. I've said this before but if you buy a copy of Ask For It by Sara Laschever and Linda Babcock, it could change your life. Seriously. It's written for women but would be an excellent read for anyone who finds this tough. 

Only 42% of people have asked for a raise, but of those, 75% get one.
— Lydia Frank, PayScale

One panelist talked about going for a huge job - the firm really wanted her - and she was asked what salary she required. She called her sister for advice, and the sister said she must ask for the same salary as the guy she was replacing. The candidate balked at that. How could she? He had so much more experience, years at the company, and so on. Her sister stuck to her guns: "Don't you dare undercut yourself - you'll be doing his job." She asked for his number and got it.

The panelists pointed out that while so many women think, "I can't ask for that - it's too much," the company may end up hiring a more expensive person because they think he or she is superior. We equate 'expensive' with 'good'. 

That said, as Sara Laschever said when moderating, you need to aim high and ask for a number that makes you slightly nauseous but doesn't make you giggle. But whatever you ask for, argue for it in terms of what you bring to the table. Keep things focused on what you've achieved for the company.

And finally, they mentioned the importance of persistence. In their experience, women are far more likely than men to take 'no' as no. I am living proof of this - one rejection and I scurry off. Men are more inclined to take that initial rejection as just that, then try again.

You can read a couple of my other posts about women and negotiation here and here

Men, Women, and the Definition of 'Family'

We need to change men’s options and choices.
— Anne-Marie Slaughter

This week saw the release of Anne-Marie Slaughter's new book, Unfinished Business. Fresh from reading her husband's article, Why I Put My Wife's Career First, in the Atlantic, I was eager to get a copy. Two nights ago I did - but first I saw Slaughter interviewed about the book by former New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.

How do we start to change the box we still have family and women’s roles in?
— Christine Quinn

Christine quinn

I'd heard Slaughter speak before, both live and on the radio, so I knew she was good. And I loved having Quinn as the moderator. She asked questions we need to hear more often, such as why our society sees 'family' as the nuclear kind, and why a married, gay woman like Quinn is seen for what she lacks (children) rather than what she has. Quinn told us that during her campaign for mayor she was quizzed about why she didn't 'have a family.' She's from a big Irish-Catholic clan and said what I've often felt like saying: Actually, I do have one (they just haven't emerged from my own body). After the campaign was over some journalist suggested that now maybe she could get started on that family. Talk about being put in a box.

I'm glad she brought up that topic of how she's viewed as a non-mother, not just because it illustrates how easily women are still stereotyped. But also because women who either choose not to have children or can't have them often feel totally left out of the conversation on women and work - yet we too are very much part of the workforce.

Back to Slaughter, who kicked the conversation about straight women and high level careers into the stratosphere three years ago with her Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can't Have It All. Her premise is that we've become a society that wildly undervalues care - whether women or men are giving it.

"We as women have sexism ourselves," Slaughter pointed out. True. Plenty of women are just as sexist about men as men have traditionally been about us. We can be inflexible in how we see their roles, such is the power of the masculine stereotype. The latest Pew Social Trends survey on stay-at-home fathers showed just 8% of Americans thought kids were better off with a dad at home full-time (51% thought kids were better off with a mother at home full-time). The idea that mother is best is in all our heads, and that father is cut out for other things. Someone I know well has occasionally received heated praise - "You're such a good dad!" - for doing pretty basic, everyday stuff with his kid. A woman would never receive a similar comment, Slaughter noted. Women are expected to be nurturers. Men aren't.

She also reminded us that young girls are usually told that they can do anything - work, work and have kids, stay home with kids, whatever. But boys are still raised with the narrative that they must become a provider - their scope is much narrower. Slaughter says she and her husband are bringing up their two sons with the idea that they too can do anything they want - including become the lead parent.

I'm about a quarter of the way into the book and hope to have Slaughter and her husband as guests on The Broad Experience. And I hope Chris Quinn doesn't mind if I call her a real broad. That's a compliment.

Female Relationships at Work

We don’t know how to overtly compete like men do...We cut you out of an email maybe, or bad mouth you behind your back. And then that war gets very deep and goes on for a very long time.
— Kathi Elster
These women work for the U.N. so let's hope they genuinely get on (photo used with Creative Commons license)

These women work for the U.N. so let's hope they genuinely get on (photo used with Creative Commons license)

The first time I did a show about women's relationships at work I felt guilty. This wasn't a happy story I was doing, but a piece about how poisonous things can become among women in the workplace. I felt bad because the idea that women have it in for eachother, that they're 'catty' and mean, is generally accepted, and it harms women. Female women-haters have become a popular stereotype.

The problem is, many of us have experienced some version of this behavior in our own lives. Some people even quit jobs because they can't take it any more. So I'm talking about it again, with the hope we can bring some understanding to this kind of behavior - and change it.

I had a great conversation last week with Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley of K Squared Enterprises. They focus full-time on solving relationship issues at work. I just released a whole show about this today, but here are some quick points I picked up from our conversation.

  • Back when we lived in caves and men roamed around for food, women had to protect their offspring. The men competed and sometimes got killed doing it. It was our job to keep the next generation alive, and we befriended other women as part of this tactic. So we evolved not to compete openly like men, but covertly. This instinct lives on in us today.
  • Covert competition is responsible for a lot of less-than-appealing female behavior - in and out of work. But most of us are totally unaware of the extent to which we engage in it.
  • Women and men are harder on female bosses because we expect women to be nice. We don't necessarily expect that from men. So the next time you're inclined to label your boss a bitch, consider for a minute: if a man behaved like that would you feel the same way about him? Or would you just accept it?
  • Women tend to personalize business behavior - most men don't. So we're likelier than men to amp up the drama because we get upset and take it all personally.
  • Some studies suggest playing competitive sports sets women up for life in the office fast-lane. A lot of young girls play sports but many drop out as teenagers. If women were socialized to be more openly competitive, as men are, maybe some of this underhand competition would disappear, along with its harmful consequences.
  • Some senior women find it hard to be generous to their younger female colleagues because they faced such hardships on their own way up the ladder.
  • If you're a woman who's in a bad situation with a female boss, you could be piling on without realizing it. Take a step back, look at what's going on purely from a business perspective, and divorce yourself from the emotion. To hear about all this in more detail, tune into the latest show.

Everyone's a Coach

Photo by Carlos zgz

Ever since women and work became my main reporting beat I've begun to notice something: lots of self-employed professional women are coaches. Or at least they call themselves coaches. If I look at bios on Twitter I see the word 'coach' appear startlingly often. And the more time I spend there the more female coaches I see - and they all seem to work with women.

It seems pretty much anyone can hang out a shingle as a coach. The industry isn't regulated and coaches come in many forms - life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches (who, from what I can work out, tend to work with companies as well as individuals - but if you're a coach feel free to set me straight). I haven't tracked down much in the way of statistics yet, although this study claims the life coaching industry in the US is worth $1 billion a year. That's a lot of people looking for some big life changes, and paying for them too - and I would wager the majority are women. We know women tend to seek outside help for their problems more than men do.

I wonder if this apparent glut of coaches comes as part of the whole female empowerment movement. If it does, you could argue it's good - that more people want to help women discover what makes them tick and makes them happy both at work and in life. Or maybe it's fueled by women leaving corporate life after many years and starting career number two as a coach, eager to use their experience to help others.

I suppose I should admit that as a fully paid-up curmudgeon raised in Britain I can't help being a bit suspicious of the American attitude of endless positivity that fuels the whole self-improvement industry. I'm not anti self-improvement. I just want the real thing. How is someone who may be feeling vulnerable and desperate for advice meant to tell what constitutes solid, valuable help versus the more woo-woo stuff that's out there?

I'd love to hear from anyone who's either used a career or life coach or is one.