The power of bartering

13 Jul 2010

Negotiating your financial needs in the workplace can be a difficult task for many – and this appears to be particularly true for women – but learning some simple strategies can prove very rewarding.

When you started on your career path with your first important job, did you negotiate your salary? If you’re a man, the chances are you did, whereas if you’re a woman, it’s more likely you didn’t.

This is according to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of Why Women Don’t Ask, who maintain that not negotiating opening salaries costs women a huge amount of money over the course of their career. “Research reveals men are four times as likely to ask for higher pay than are women with the same qualifications. From career promotions to help with childcare, studies show time and again that women don’t ask — and frequently don’t even realise they can,” says Babcock.

“It’s a problem hiding in plain sight in the workplace. Women don’t know how much men negotiate and men don’t know how little women do. And it isn’t always about money. It can be about the projects you’re assigned to or the team you’re in, for example. Negotiation is no longer optional. It has become a basic survival skill.”

Babcock was inspired to write the book while working as director of a PhD programme at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. Female students were protesting at the special treatment male students were receiving such as teaching their own courses. When she looked into it, in each case, the men had asked for these things and Babcock had obliged. She realised she’d been perpetuating discrimination simply by not noticing how much more often men asked for things that would help them get ahead.

The female students were waiting to be offered opportunities and better prospects, but why? “We socialise girls to be modest, hold back, not rock the boat and be grateful for what they have. They’re taught not to grab opportunities. Boys are given different messages — they’re made feel the world is out there for them and are empowered in so many ways. Women often think it’s part of their personality to be afraid of asking for things, but society has placed them in this role,” says Babcock.

To help people build up their negotiation muscles, Babcock and Laschever have developed a six-week series of exercises called the ‘Negotiation Gym’.

“Start by negotiating several small things — something ‘small’ means the stakes are low and you won’t be devastated if you don’t get it,” says Babcock. As the weeks go on, you keep raising the stakes until you’re ready for the big one, similar to running every day in preparation for a marathon.

Gathering information before meeting with your boss is crucial. “Check if there is any precedent to what you’re asking for; examine possible obstacles; and research what people in comparable roles are getting paid. When you’re ready, choose a time when you’re calm and feel your boss will really hear you. People hate ultimatums, so a better way is to explain that you like working there and want to find a way to stay. Present some ideas that would make you happy and show how they would work for the organisation.”

Loading now, one moment please! Loading