7 Ways Women Leaders Can Win at Negotiating

The key strategy is simply asking.

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7 Ways Women Leaders Can Win at Negotiating
Image credit: laflor | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The one class I wished they offered during my tenure in graduate school was negotiation. Walking across the stage with my cap and gown over a decade ago, with an ambitious outlook about the workplace, I was clueless about the value of negotiating. As a result, I accepted my first job offer and never questioned the compensation and offer package agreement. It was a move I would later regret.

Related: 10 Inspirational Quotes From Women Business Leaders

The same process followed me when I started my first company in 2004. After leaning on the advice of other women in similar service-based industries, I was led to believe that negotiating was an "aggressive" tactic that was frowned upon. I walked into board meetings assuming that I was not qualified and asking would appear "greedy," so I settled. A study by Carnegie Mellon seemed to confirm my fears, finding "people penalize[d] women who initiated negotiations for higher compensation more than they did men. Women are potentially being evaluated according to different criteria, even if the person doing the evaluation doesn't realize it."

Years later, I realized how many financial and advancement opportunities I left on the table due to my fear. I also discovered my own unconscious self biases, which allowed me to refrain from debates about financial value. Once I mastered the art of winning at the negotiation table, I learned the key strategy is simply asking. Every negotiation commences with a question, which expands into a qualitative dialogue about value.

Winning the debate about the value gap for women begins when women win at art of negotiating. It is a binary skill of asking for consideration and assessing value to your contribution(s). Here are seven ways women can win at the negotiation table:

1. Never assume before you ask. 

I recently had a conversation with Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, LLC, where she stated that 20 percent of women in the workplace have never negotiated their compensation agreements. There is complexity in the simplicity of this step. In my company's study of 100 senior level leaders and women business owners, more than 70 percent of our participants simply failed to ask the decision maker(s) to commence a conversation about their value over the course of our four-year leadership incubator, which concluded in 2014. Women simply don't ask for higher salaries, compared to men.

Related: These Female Entrepreneurs Created a Fake Male Co-Founder to Work Around Sexism. How Well It Worked Is Incredibly Eye Opening.

2. Know the value of your professional contribution(s). 

Do your research and measure the comparable value for your level of professional mastery. As you grow professionally and acquire new leadership skills, you must assess the value of your growth. As you upgrade yourself, you must upgrade your value. Learning never ends, hence your value will continue to increase.

3. Leverage connections and advocates. 

It is necessary to connect and network with other women who have excelled in their career and/or business as a result of negotiating. You will need several advocates and proven mentors in your corner, who you will create mock scenarios for you based on their past experiences. This level of accountability will increase your confidence as well.

Related: How to Succeed as a Female Leader Anywhere In the World

4. Present your value proposition. 

We refer to it as your UVP, or unique value proposition. Highlight your experience, accomplishments, qualifications and your replacement value. It is better to highlight your UVP in a P&L format, which will substantiate your discussion. Decision makers are more responsive to proven data than forecasting.

5. Ask.

Transitioning from your accomplishments to asking for consideration is necessary. This is where most of the discomfort in the negotiation process begins for women. While it is the uncomfortable part of the process, it also allows decision makers to view you as a confident leader. The No. 1 piece of advice I give every woman is to practice role-playing as if you were negotiating for your employer, instead of yourself. "Women negotiate more assertively for other individuals, such as their employees, than they do for themselves, research finds. Because negotiating for others is a communal behavior," per a report published by Harvard Law School. By role playing the ask as a communal discussion, factoring in your advocates, peers and other organizations that rave over your contributions, asking will become easier.

Related: The Real-Life Jerry Maguire Taught Me These 3 Crucial Rules for a Successful Negotiation

6. Remain receptive to constructive feedback.

This will help you improve your negotiation skills. As career development expert Nicole Lindsay writes in The Muse, you need to "remind yourself of the benefits of receiving constructive criticism -- namely, to improve your skills, work product and relationships, and to help you meet the expectations that your manager and others have of you." She also recommends that you "ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them."

7. Memorialize it in writing. 

Do not underestimate the importance of memorializing your conversation in written format. Most of the misinterpretation occurs after the meeting, where the details of the outcome become skewed. Outline what you asked for and document each response to your inquiry. Make sure all parties acknowledge the minutes and amend as necessary to avoid debates which could occur later.

Women can change the gender normative expectation gap, which has created an unconscious probability that women will not ask. Women can win at the art of negotiating by focusing on the long-term benefits of their contribution, and on the simplicity of asking for additional consideration, rather than waiting for an offer.

Related Video: Negotiation Tips From an FBI Kidnapping Negotiator

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