Eight insights to help you negotiate the divide between "nice girl" and "hard nosed b*tch"

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
― Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Over the past few months nearly every single one of my clients has asked for advice on negotiation and the irony is that several of my clients are negotiation experts in and of their own right!   

This got me thinking. Why is it that these women don’t like negotiating? It can’t be that they aren’t good at it because these particular women are highly sought after dispute resolution experts  and do really well advocating for others.  What else might be going on?

Is it because there is a social stigma attached to negotiating for yourself? Is it because women are perceived as greedy if and when we do, and greed is associated with appetite?

Possibly and probably. Anyone who is anyone knows that appetite and women are two words that don’t go together comfortably in a sentence even in this day and age.

But when we are going after big career or entrepreneurial goals our appetites will show whether we like it or not. If we want something hard enough it’s difficult to hide it! And neither we should.

“Victor Ciam of Remington fame - he liked the razor so much he bought the company. Big goals require big appetites!”

My expertise is in decoding the differences between male and female brain biology and interpreting how that may play out in a work environment. For example, in general women are more risk averse, which plays out with many entrepreneurial women starting with lower goals and those in corporates wanting to see more evidence of risk mitigation strategies or research done. 

The benefit of having a brain that scans for risk is obvious – it’s a survival, "playing it safe" mechanism - and frequently good for business. But the down side of having a brain that constantly scans for risk is exactly that. When we feel uncertain, underprepared or under threat, the risk part of our brain will kick into overdrive and slow things down, keep us playing small, and keep us in the “comfort zone” of safe.

So here are eight interesting insights about women, perception and negotiation that might just blow your mind or at least help you navigate the divide far more easily.

1.     Take ownership

We need to take ownership of the fact that we avoid negotiating for ourselves.

Men negotiate four times more frequently and when we do negotiate we ask for 30% less than men – according to Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Women Don’t Ask

Wow!  Really? Yes really. 

In the past year I’ve spoken with many an HR manager and recruiter. They definitely agree with this observation that women ask for raises less frequently and also ask for less when they do ask. Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In refers to this research along with Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Confidence Code.

We need to own this piece of the puzzle when reflecting on getting ahead - and do something about it.

2.     It’s easier and possibly more beneficial to have someone else do your negotiation for you. 

Hannah Riley Bowles, a professor at the Center for Public Leadership and Faculty Director of Women & Power at the Harvard Kennedy School, says that

"Women do substantially better negotiating for others than for themselves,"

"It's got to do with social stereotypes."

And the reality, according to Bowles, is that when we as women do negotiate hard for ourselves, there is a social cost as we come out looking less likeable.  And once again we’re back to navigating that double edged sword between “nice girl” and “hard nosed b*tch”. 

And while it’s not always possible to have a salary broker advocating on your behalf, maybe we need to accept the social cost in the short term, because the very real cost in dollars is undermining us later in life with ANZ recently calculating that the gap in salary over the span of a career equates to $700K. When you weigh it up like that, maybe likability is a small price to pay.

3.     Stop talking up how well you do the job – and start talking up your value

Last week I wrote about the issue of communicating value. As women we frequently get stuck in the mode of doing the job properly and well. We imagine that "doing the job well" is a fast track to success and we polish up “doing the job” as if  it were the end result. But when something new comes along or we start dreaming of something better, all we have is the language and experience of doing the job well and that won't get you very far, very fast.

Carrie Gallant, negotiation expert, talks about leveraging value. Be sure to bring the value of what you offer to the table – context and big picture thinking – and communicate that clearly and articulately.

“Leverage is essentially what you bring that is valuable to someone else, plus your ability to help them see that value.” Carrie Gallant, Goop

 

4.     Change what you believe about good negotiation skills

Tara Mohr, Playing Big, writes about a really interesting study where men and women were paired in mock negotiation. Some of the pairs of negotiators were told that traits frequently associated with women were great for negotiation:

  • Good listening,
  • Emotional intelligence, and
  • Good communication skills

Guess what - in the pairs who were given this information the women outperformed the men!

So instead of heading into a negotiation worrying that you aren’t good at it, focus instead on the skills that you do have (listening, emotional intelligence and communication) and leverage those for beneficial outcomes.

5.     Don’t think of yourself as a woman negotiating

I’m extrapolating here and making assumptions but the following research may throw some light on it.  In 1999 Margaret Shih conducted a study at Harvard of 46 undergraduate Asian women.  They were asked to sit a maths test (traditionally thought of as a weakness in women’s abilities). When the women were reminded of their gender prior to the test, their test scores dropped compared to a control group.  Interestingly when the women were reminded of their Asian heritage they didn’t perform as poorly.

Yes, I’m extrapolating here – but perhaps by focusing on gender all the time, we are making things worse. Focus instead on gender neutrality.

7. Reframe your language from “negotiating” to “asking” and you’ll more likely ask for a payrise

Apparently the word “negotiation” has negative connotations for many women. Another study conducted, once again with Linda Babcock involved in the research indicated that by using language such as “asking” which is perceived as less intimidating, more polite and more role consistent, women were more likely to initiate negotiations.

“Consequently, gender differences in initiating negotiations persisted when situations were framed as opportunities for negotiation yet were eliminated when situations were framed as opportunities to ask.”

Ah the power of language.  Ask, don't negotiate. 

8.    You are not likely to be any more or any less successful than men

In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Margaret a. Neale and Thomas Z Lys they write:

“When both men and women have similar expectations about compensation packages, there is no difference in their likelihood to negotiate. Empirical evidence also shows that when women do negotiate, they’re no more or less successful than their male counterparts.”

So in a nutshell

  •  Do ask. Find ways to ask formally, informally, light heartedly and seriously. But do ask.
  • Instead of avoiding the issue or preparing by reading articles about why women don’t negotiate as well as men, simply go into the “asking” with an understanding that women do negotiate well. 
  • Do prepare - it will help mitigate your hypersensitive risk antennae triggers of under preparing, uncertainty and feeling like you are under threat - and more on preparation next week.
  • Remember that when we’re reminded of our gender we are more likely to underperform, yet when we focus on the traits and skills that are great in a negotiation, we do really well.
  • And finally – there is never a good time for a tough conversation. 
"The right time, while not perfect, is now. "

It’s your career and your future – and your ability to navigate that double edged sword between "nice girl" and "hard nosed b*tch", will be in part what differentiates you as a leader.

“If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing. ” ― Margaret Thatcher


Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution

 If you missed it - The F Word that Keeps Us Playing Small

  •  I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 
  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months