As a feminist, it pains me to say this, but I've seen it over and over again in the business world: Women lose out to men as negotiators all the time, especially when it comes to negotiating a fair price for our products and services, or fair compensation for ourselves as business partners, contractors, or employees. So I was intrigued when I heard that Mariela Dabbah, consultant and author of Find Your Inner Red Shoes had made the same observation.
Why are women at a disadvantage in negotiations, especially when it comes to getting the money we deserve? Here's some of what both Dabbah and I have seen:
1. We feel less entitled. In any negotiation, if you expect less, you'll get less, and women tend to expect less. "So many times, I hear women say, 'I would do this job even if they didn't pay me because I love it,'" Dabbah says. "But that's true for most people doing something they're passionate about."
I've heard women say that too, and far more often than men. I'm not sure why women think this way, but it's clear that most of us don't expect or ask for as much money as our male counterparts do. "I think we have a much lower sense of entitlement and it probably comes from our upbringing," Dabbah says. "A very clear example is what happens with people who work on Wall Street. Men will start lobbying for their bonuses months before bonus time, so that the company already has an idea of how much they're expecting. Very few women, if any, approach the cmopensation person and say, 'I want to make X.' It's a different style. It's also a lower sense of what we deserve."
It doesn't have to be this way. Women going into a negotiation over money should arm themselves ahead of time with information about typical and fair pay for what we're offering. I don't know about anyone else, but for me, finding out what other people are getting paid for the exact same service goes a long way toward killing any idea that I don't deserve as much. Then, before the negotiation, decide both how much you hope to get, and the least you're willing to live with. Be prepared to walk away if you don't get it.
2. We don't like to brag. "Men are a bit more trained or have more experience speaking about themselves, their companies, and their accomplishments," Dabbah says. For many women, myself included, talking about our companies or achievements doesn't come naturally. (Whereas, if you've ever listened to a man on a first date, you know that talking about themselves and their accomplishmets seems to be less of a problem.)
One good way for women to get over this hurdle is by using metrics. "Our company's sales have grown 50 percent in the past year," is simply a mathematical fact, not a brag.
3. We avoid risk. OK, I know all about the surfer who got her arm bit off by a shark and got right back on her board. Overall, though, women tend to be more careful of risk than men, a tendency my friends who are mothers tell me increases once you have kids.
Obviously, this isn't a bad thing all of the time, or even most of the time. But it can be a handicap at the negotiation table. "At some point you have to make a decision and take some risk and sometimes being too careful can hold you back," Dabbah says. "Jumping on an opportunity means you won't know everything."
Recognizing that simple fact can go a long way toward solving the problem. Admit to yourself that despite the best preparation, a deal can still go south--and if it does you'll survive. Keep that in mind, and maybe the next time a great deal with some unknowns comes your way, you'll be ready to make the leap.