Why Women Have a Hard Time Negotiating

One of the bonuses of my work is hearing reports of how others ask for and receive outrageous results including promotions with pay increases, new jobs, donations for non-profit organizations, new clients, and deals on big purchases.

In a recent email, Mariann shared her results and insights from asking:

Linda I tried this theory while giving blood at work. My upbringing always told me not to do this…. After the donation they asked me if I wanted a chocolate or oatmeal cookie. I asked for both. Because that’s what I really wanted. And they actually gave them to me. I know this might have been such a small thing, but I did just like you asked: Be bold. What an accomplishment.

(Note: Mariann’s comments are edited to fit the space and protect her identity.)

At first glance, Mariann’s result might not seem significant. But in fact, her cookie request shows courage. Mariann took a risk and stepped out of her comfort zone. Waytogo Mariann! Like Mariann, women frequently report that they prevent themselves from asking for what they want because of how they were raised.

The Negotiation Gender Divide

When performing the research for the book Ask Outrageously, the 1163 respondents cited factors which influenced their ability to make requests. These influences included upbringing, community, education, religious backgrounds, national origin and/or early job experiences. In comments by respondents, gender was the most frequently mentioned factor shaping how people make requests.

While men did not report they felt an advantage or a disadvantage in making requests because of their gender, several women made comments like these:

Girls in my family growing up were “support” people and were not expected to have a career or be on their own.

I think women are expected to say thank you for whatever they are given, even if it’s not what they wanted or less than they expected.

These remarks aren’t unusual. Several studies show a gender divide when voicing an opinion, interviewing, asking for compensation, and/or seeking a promotion.

Empowering Women to Negotiate

Organizations attempt to be gender neutral in job descriptions and in creating salary ranges. Some offer programs to encourage women to become leaders. Other organizations create peer groups designed to encourage each other. Some match women with mentors and executive coaches. Smart organizations bring in external consultants, training professionals, and conference speakers to help women leaders communicate and negotiate at a higher level. (Yes, that’s a hint )

However, leaders who want to improve their skills don’t rely on answers solely provided by others. Like you, they create their own solutions for development. Here are some suggestions.

Build a Support Team

To command more influence and strengthen your ability to make requests at the highest levels, consider forming or joining a peer-advisory group. These trusted advisers support each other’s efforts, challenge each other to grow, and obtain better results. Accountability, feedback, and support are priceless.

Seek Mentors

Ask people you respect to breakfast, lunch, or an after-work event. You will be surprised at who will say yes to connecting when given the opportunity. Their insights and abilities will shortcut your learning curve and help you avoid pitfalls.

Warning: Do not ask people to be mentors for all aspects of your career for life. Instead, discuss a challenge or an issue you are facing and ask how they would address the situation. Later, inform them of the results you had and how their advice was helpful. Your follow through gives you permission to contact them again. And – Remember to ask how you can help them. While their reward may be in sharing what they have learned, they may have needs you can address.

Recognize Your Impact as a Woman Leader

Whether you are a master requester or still on the journey to improve your skills, you can serve as an example to others. In fact, your attempts may encourage other women to ask or take a calculated risk. In the Ask Outrageously study, women who claimed they were strong in making requests pointed to strong female role models in mothers, aunts, grandmothers, teachers, and supervisors.

Men Can Be Mentors

Men often ask, “How can we best support women we lead or care about in their efforts to improve their confidence?” It turns out the answer is, “Plenty.” In the book research, a woman often attributed her courage to make bolder requests to a man’s influence and/or his belief in her. Strong female negotiators said their confidence grew because of the encouragement of their male role models including their brothers, fathers, husbands, and bosses.

How Leaders Help Women Ask & Advance

Here are ten ways leaders can empower woman to negotiate more effectively.

  1. Include her in a meeting where you are negotiating; then debrief later.

  2. Where appropriate, ask for her interpretation of a situation and to offer options; then inform her of other elements to consider.

  3. Coach her through challenges and give her feedback on how to improve.

  4. Encourage her to apply for positions where you know she will grow.

  5. Recommend courses or training which will prepare her for the future roles.

  6. Give her responsibilities to lead a project and/or a team.

  7. Suggest her for leadership roles and business opportunities.

  8. Introduce her to your peers and to successful business professionals.

  9. Help her connect with other powerful women.

  10. Use words of encouragement. Remember: Many of your coworkers, including women, are fighting internal battles and memories from comments made by past bosses or messages from their upbringing. Your genuine words of support to speak up and to ask include: “I wouldn’t have delegated this responsibility to you if you couldn’t be successful.” “No one is more capable or deserving of this opportunity than you.” “You’ve got this!”

Please let me know how well you negotiate this month. You’ve got this!

P.S. In addition to your conferences, workshops and events, if your women’s leadership initiative or women’s organization needs a speaker, please ask!