Brooke Allen’s piece, “The secret to a higher salary is to ask for nothing at all,” drew many responses including Lauren Bacon’s take yesterday: “The secret to a higher salary might be to ask for nothing at all—but it only seems to work for men.” Here is Brooke’s advice for women trying to negotiate a better deal.
Thank you for your piece that points out gender differences in negotiation style and pay. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support your claims, and a small amount of personal experience that stems from the fact that my first name is Brooke, and therefore strangers often assume I am a female until they meet me in person.
Your “million-dollar question” is a good one. Would I have been as successful in my negotiations had I been female? In this particular instance, I believe that the answer is “yes” because I was negotiating with a Canadian firm run by pretty decent people. Although not Canadian myself, both my sons have gone to McGill, and I have developed a theory that in Canada, they raise children to believe that it is more important to be decent than to be rich. But, you are in Vancouver so you can better say what happens on the ground there.
In any event, I have been around the block on Wall Street where I’m pretty sure decency doesn’t play much of a role in most negotiations. For this reason I suspect that at most other firms, I might not have fared as well had I been a woman, particularly if the financial value of my work was less quantifiable.
Rather than wait around for other people to raise their children differently, I have one suggestion that could help women right now when negotiating with men—but first, a little background:
In 2009, I was making a presentation to my peers in quantitative finance about finding work during hard times. I started with the story of how during the Great Depression, my grandmother was able to start with a job as a receptionist and within a few years she had a fully-paid-for-custom-built home. (You can read the story here.)
I told the group, “At least there is no shortage of work, and when the money dries up, the work piles up.” Indeed, each turning point in my career came during recessions when I would work for free or cheap doing things I was not particularly skilled at. During better times, employers would have had a budget to hire someone more competent than me, and I would not have stood a chance. Once I developed skills, and the economy recovered, I was able to get people to bid up my price. In the long run, I fared much better than more skilled people who held out for better pay and therefore remained unemployed while their skills atrophied.
Fully 40% of my audience at my talk was unemployed, so we got together for dinner to discuss how they could get to work even when there are no jobs. This led to the website NoShortageOfWork.com, and through it, I have met many women struggling to establish themselves, and improve their lot once they do.
When negotiating, I recommend everyone (but women in particular) take a three-step approach:
Step 1. Describe the problem to the person on the other side.
Step 2. Ask, “What would you do if you were me?”
Step 3. Shut up—anything you say next will weaken your stance.
For example, “After working at this internship for three months, I believe I am ready to draw a salary equal to that of any man doing comparable work. What would you do if you were me?”
For whatever reason, women are generally more empathetic than men, and men see themselves as problem solvers. Men are also capable of empathy; it is just that you often have to ask for it explicitly. By asking the question in Step 2 you can get a man to switch the problem from, “How can I hire this person for cheap?” to “How can I get paid fairly if I were on the other side?” Very few men will say (or even think), “If I were you, I would ask for less money because I am a woman.”
Of course, it might still be true that many women would rather not negotiate at all.
That leaves me with a problem: How do I get women to give my approach a try? If you were me, what would you do?
I’ll shut up now.