Must Know Negotiation Skills for Women

Must Know Negotiation Skills for Women

I promise you, I hate that I’m writing this post, but it’s a reality that I know I’m not the only one facing so I have to write it. I want to share with you a story of my experience with a negotiation first, then talk about some research surrounding negotiation and some practical tips for negotiation.


To my surprise, during the application process for a summer fellowship, I found that they did not have any fellowship opportunities in LA. It’s not like I was living under some rock in the middle of nowhere, so I thought maybe it was a mistake. I emailed the organization to make sure there weren’t any opportunities in LA this summer and they ensured me that there were not, but would let me know if any manifested. Terry pushed me to apply anyway and opt for locations where we both have family instead. If I got the opportunity we could stay with one of our families for the summer. Let me say, from the start I wasn’t thrilled with this idea. My baby would not even be a year old, so picking up and living away from home for the summer was not ideal to me AT ALL, but I wanted to be a good sport, so I applied.

Time goes by and I get offered an interview, then another interview, then the fellowship. Hooray right? Not yet. I still had to be placed in a location, either on the other side of the country in Philadelphia, where I’m from, or the Bay Area, where Terry is from….but we live in LA and we can’t make arrangements until I’m successfully placed, which takes time. By the time I was finally placed in a location, Terry had solidified 3 jobs for the summer in LA. So my fiance has jobs in LA and I have a job offer in the Bay Area (making less money no less). At this point, I was ready to turn it down, but Terry was convinced that we could work something out. I sent an initial email to my boss for the summer asking if I can delay being in The Bay full time until the end of July. He doesn’t reply, but I get an email from a coordinator in the organization asking to set up a phone call. I think, “Ok well that’s not a no, so maybe this a good sign!” I have a phone call with the coordinator, he knows nothing about the email I sent our boss, but he said he would talk to him and get back to me about my start date. He emails me a week later telling me it wouldn’t be ideal for me to be in LA given the nature of the work, but we could have the initial meeting over the phone if need be. At this point, again, I’m ready to give up. In my mind, he clearly said it would be preferable for me to be in The Bay due to the nature of the work and honestly I was feeling weird for even asking to not be in the Bay when I knew well and good that the job was in the Bay throughout the interview process. Terry on the other hand looked at his email as an opportunity to further clarify our circumstances and negotiate. He proceeds to work his magic and help me craft a response email. Long story long, the fellowship allowed me to stay in LA for the majority of the time only coming to the Bay when need be instead of coming back and forth with my family every week, missing out on the opportunity completely, or Terry having to give up his opportunities here in LA. Everybody wins! I learned some valuable lessons throughout this process.


    1. Negotiating to fit your needs is not unprofessional: I was worried I would come off as unprofessional if I even asked to work remotely for the summer, because the job was clearly not in LA. In my mind I thought they would see my request and think, “who applies for a job in another city and then asks to not have to come to the city?” The reality was that I did have intentions on relocating temporarily for the position, but the process took longer than expected and our family had to ensure we would have a steady income regardless so that is what we did. There was nothing unprofessional about it. I was simply finding ways to get the necessary work done in a way that did not completely uproot my family.
    2. I have something worth negotiating. This is something I should not have learned from this experience, because I already know that I am valuable to any organization I contribute my time to, but this was a reminder that I’m so valuable that organizations are willing to work with me to get what I have to offer. Sometimes, in professional settings, I behave as if I’m doing the company or organization a favor rather than providing a valuable service. That was the mental mistake I was making in this process when I was doubting whether I should negotiate at all.
    3. Negotiation is always worth it when you have more to gain than to lose. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so against negotiating for a majority remote position anyway. The worst thing that could’ve happened was that they could’ve said no and I would’ve stayed at home with my baby while Terry went to work. Our family’s livelihood wasn’t depending on me getting this job. All things considered, this was basically a risk-free negotiation opportunity (which is rare), but every fiber of my being kept screaming “It’s unprofessional!” instead of asking “is it worth it?”


Not so surprisingly, I’m not the only woman in the world who struggles with negotiating. In a study done by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University for her book, Women Don’t Ask, Babcock found that 7% of women attempt to negotiate their salaries compared to 57% of men. Now don’t go jump the gun and point the finger at women for the wage gap. One of the major contributors to women opting out of negotiating is the reasonable fear women have that if they try to negotiate, they will be penalized. In four experiments conducted by Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Carnegie Mellon, and colleagues, they found that women are more likely to be penalized for negotiating than men when they have a male boss and just as likely to be penalized as men, if there boss is a woman. The reason for this bias may be that employers are looking for different characteristics in men than women. In a study conducted by Julie Phelan and her colleagues from Rutgers University, they found that in hiring decisions social skills were given more weight than competence for women and not for men. Even for women in positions of power, when they behave assertively they are ostracized, judged, and penalized for it. We all know this. Women are expected to be demure and passive and when they’re not, there is often hell to pay. For women of color, it is even worse. Black women make 63 cents to the white man’s dollar. Psychology research has shown that darker skin tone, coarse hair texture, and natural hairstyles can cause a more negative and discriminatory response towards black women in and out of the work place.


With all of this evidence, it is no wonder women are hesitant to negotiate, especially when this may be the only job or job offer on the table to take care of themselves and their families. But carry on we must, so here are some tips from master negotiators Jacqueline Twillie and Margaret A. Neale for negotiating, whether it be a starting salary, a pay raise, remote work options, more job flexibility, or whatever it is you are looking to leverage.

  • Do not minimize your value (EVER): To prepare for a negotiation, you have to get your self-confidence right first. Do this by focusing on the facts and not just your feelings. Think of (and write down if need be) the concrete things you contribute or could contribute (proven by previous experiences) to the organization.
  • Do your research: Find out what is typical for that field, that organization, and that specific role. For my fellowship, I knew that although they did not have any remote positions that summer, fellows had worked remotely in the past. To see how your experiences compare to people in the same role, look at the LinkedIn profiles of people within the same organization on the same level. When negotiating a salary, find out what someone with your experience in your geographic area makes for that particular position. Payscale, Paysa, and Glassdoor are helpful sites for this information.
  • Assess: Do my benefits outweigh my costs? As stated, all negotiating comes with a risk, especially as women and (extra) especially as black women, so asses what that risk is for you before carrying out the negotiation and weigh it out against the benefits. If they rescind this offer, are you okay staying with your current job or no job at all? If you don’t negotiate, are you okay with losing potentially $7,000 a year and taking longer than your counterparts to make the same salary? Only you can answer these questions.
  • Prepare: What are my interests? What are your interests? To successfully negotiate, you have to show that you can fulfill your employer’s need while simultaneously fulfilling your own. In order to do this, you must accurately identify their interests and find a way to fit theirs into yours.  
  • Ask: Engage in the negotiation and share unique information. Your employer does not know what you know. Share this information. Had I not shared that I was expecting to be placed earlier than I actually was and my fiance had obtained a position in the meantime or the fact that we have a baby that would have to be a part of this commute, it’s likely they would not have been open to allowing me to be remote for the majority of the fellowship.
  • Package Interests: Bundle Alternative Proposals. Neal says that when you negotiate issue by issue, as most people do, every issue is adversarial. Providing alternative solutions to your employer takes the edge off while also addressing multiple issues and interests at once. She recommends using If, then language. “If I give you this, then you will get that.” Women do better in negotiation when they pair their competence with a communal need. Think of it as a ‘help me, help you’ proposal. “If I have X, I can better help you (the team, organization, etc) do Y.”
  • Representational Negotiation: Women outperform men when they negotiate on behalf of others. Likely because of this “caring”stereotype placed on women, people are more receptive when they are negotiating on behalf of someone else. In my case, I was negotiating on behalf of the needs of my future husband and 7 month old son and it worked.
  • Use social settings to practice: Look at social settings as opportunities to practice your negotiation skills. I’m awkward in negotiation in any situation. Terry on the other hand, gets excited at any opportunity to get a more fitting outcome for us. “Oh, they want to tell us it’s too late to buy tickets for this movie showing? Let’s talk.”  Just like with anything else, you (and by you, I mean we) need to practice negotiating to become more comfortable with asking for what we deserve. It’s not confrontation, it’s problem solving and getting what you want and deserve!
  • Find more options: Negotiating is less risky when you have other options. You get more options by, as Terry would say, placing your name in the hat. Something I’ve learned from him and love about him is how he doesn’t let an opportunity pass him by, even if it’s “just” a learning opportunity. Apply to more jobs, apply to more fellowships, go on more interviews to practice your negotiation skills and give yourself more opportunities to get whatever it is you want out of life. Getting more opportunities will also boost your confidence so that when you get a job offer, you won’t feel like they’re saving your life and completely forget to negotiate the salary (100% me with my first good job out of grad school). Instead you’ll know that you got this job because you deserve it, because you’re a catch, and they better treat you like it to keep you (kind of like dating, but more professional).

As usual, I hope this article was super helpful. I’d love to hear any of your experiences with negotiating. It sucks that as amazing as women are we have to be this strategic to get what we deserve in the workplace or get at least the same as what the other guy is getting. This is the world we live in though and us becoming better at navigating it is just one way of making it better. Another way is informing people in power about these issues and the ultimate way is becoming the people in power and doing better with it.


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