You’re talented. You work hard. But do you find yourself underpaid, under-promoted, under-funded, or under-respected? Let me ask you: Have you been exercising your negotiation muscles?

Women don’t negotiate as often, and they don’t negotiate as successfully, as men do. Their bank accounts and careers suffer for it.

[There are two sides to the negotiation table. Well, there are probably 4, but you get my drift. This piece focuses on what you as the employee can do to get yourself better compensation. I believe that the company side of the table needs to change, too. I think it’s stupid that a company hires you for one skill (programming, managing, architect-ing) but compensates you based on another (negotiation). Some companies have even eliminated salary negotiations for this reason.]

Ultimately, asking for more–pushing boundaries–not only gets you more, but it also expands and improves people’s perception of you. In this culture, more money equals more value. Asking for more and better will teach people that you expect respect and fair treatment.

“More respect and fair treatment” — The unofficial motto of women in tech?

[Another side note: I know there are men who suck at negotiating, and women who are good. This article speaks in generalities to reflect the average reality.]

Negotiation Is Hard. Suck It Up.

When I was first thinking of launching my own firm, I talked with a college friend of mine who had started her own, successful freelance-law business several years prior. When I expressed my insecurities and uncertainties about every aspect of this endeavor, she responded, “Why would you know how to do any of this? No one has ever taught you, and you’ve never done it before.” That comment has comforted me many times since.

Men learn how to negotiate simply by seeing other men doing it. It’s natural. It’s accepted.

For us women, we’ve never learned how to negotiate, either explicitly or by the everyday osmosis of female role models. So when we first start doing it, it’s going to be hard and uncomfortable and we’re probably going to suck at it. But it’s an absolute necessity.

The bottom line is: The system rewards people who ask.

The rest of this piece is based largely on the book Ask For It: How Women Can Use Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock, which I highly recommend you read. It goes into far more detail, obviously, than a 1400-word blog post can.

What to Negotiate

When we think of negotiation in the workplace, we usually think of salary or other monetary compensation. Sometimes that’s a possibility, sometimes it’s not. So also think about other ways your job could be improved and ask for those. There are a lot of ways to make the negotiation work!

  • More stock options that vest more quickly
  • More vacation
  • Training/education
  • Opportunities to expand reach
  • Connections
  • Promotion
  • New title

How to Negotiate

Before the Negotiation: Prepare Prepare Prepare

Step 1. Educate yourself.
Start easy: On the Internet. Use sites like:

to find out what your job gets paid in other companies. Of course, make sure it’s geographically suitable information. If you’re in the Bay Area or Seattle, it doesn’t matter at all what a front-end developer in Kansas City gets paid.

Also, you need a network. You so need a network. A network of people in your company, in your profession, and throughout the tech industry. You need to know all those things that can’t easilybe found on the internet. You need to know what other people in your company are paid, what opportunities are available at your company and beyond, how bonuses are calculated and who makes the important decisions at your company, etc. This network should, of necessity, contain men.

Step 2. Write down a plan.

Take some time to figure out what you actually want, and what you’re going to ask for. The book breaks it down like this:

(Lowest value to you. You won’t accept this.)
Reservation Value
(You’re unwilling to accept below this.)
(What you really want.)
(What you start off asking for. Highest value.)

The book Perfecting Your Pitch teaches you how to use (and practice with!) scripts to get through any difficult conversation, like say, salary negotiations. Check it out: it might help you phrase your “Ask” more effectively.

Step 3. Practice, practice, practice.

Especially if you’re not quick on your feet, as I’m not, practicing what you’re going to say during your negotiation is essential.

The two women over at Brazen BFF focus on overcoming discomfort in professional environments. Their blog posts about rehearsing and public speaking might help you work through some of that discomfort. As Jenifer says, “Salary Negotiation is the ultimate in public speaking.”

Also, Ask For It ends with a “Negotiation Gym”: a series of exercises you move through over the course of several weeks, to make you more comfortable and confident in your negotiation skills.

Importantly, do not wait until you’re fed up. That “tends to make you ask badly when you finally make your move.”

During the Negotiation: Breathe Deeply and Stay Focused

  • Get your emotions under control before entering the room. Listen to music. Do whatever makes you feel powerful.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Understand the other person’s situation and priorities
  • No gamesmanship. Don’t lie or exaggerate if you care about the ongoing relationship.
  • Look for the “win-win.” Ideally use “cooperative,” not “competitive,” bargaining.  Maybe your boss can give you something you really value without sacrificing much, and in return you can easily give her something that she really values.

But really, if nothing else, just ask. I just attended a tech conference up here in beautiful Bellingham last Friday, and a male engineering manager spoke informally about negotiations. How flabbergasted he was (my word, not his; I find people don’t say “flabbergasted” nearly often enough) when people didn’t negotiate his initial offer. “I mean, at least ask!”

Special Rules for Women

This book is pragmatic. It doesn’t expect you to try to change negative cultural habits. It wants you to improve your chances at success…and then perhaps use your new vaunted position to the benefit of others.

In so many words, the book admits that the workplace expectations for women are f***ed up. We can literally do exactly the same thing that a man does, in our work and negotiations, and we’ll end up with less. In large part because assertive women are punished, by men and women alike, it turns out.

So, the book encourages you to “soften” your style, which will allow you to remain tough on the actual issues. You should practice being “relentlessly pleasant” and yes, staying “likeable.” It all reminds me of the idea of the Steel Magnolia. When I lived in Southeastern Virginia, I ran into a lot of Steel Magnolias. Women who smiled and were “sweet” to you, were genuinely nice caring people…and would grind you into dust if you crossed them. And it was so hard to fault them because they were so nice.

This approach reminds me of the controversial—and quickly rescinded—advice in a Wall Street Journal piece a few weeks ago, in which a male start-up investor encouraged women to obscure their gender in social media in order to avoid the gender bias in the industry. Women did not take nicely to this.

But one woman in the Hire Tech Ladies Facebook forum said that she’d be doing exactly that for years, out of pragmatism, and it had worked well for her. It’s a tricky situation we’re in, as women: how much do we accommodate the unfair reality, and how much do we say “oh, shove it” to said reality and hope we can change it?

Other tips for women:

  • Don’t fill every silence.
  • Don’t get sidetracked.
  • Take a break (for the bathroom, say) if you feel rushed or pressured. (This is my favorite tip. I tend to get flustered under pressure and do anything to simply end the discomfort. A trip to the bathroom instead sounds delightful!)
  • And don’t accept too quickly!

Tricking Yourself into Better Negotiations

Let’s just postulate that it’s, uh, really hard to undo decades of teachings that women shouldn’t ask for more for themselves. Might we able to “trick” ourselves into being more comfortable doing so? Try these out:

  • Pretend your bargaining on someone else’s behalf (your daughter, a friend). (I also like this tip. It’s so much easier to be strong on someone’s else’s behalf. Isn’t that pathetic?)
  • Realize that you definitely are negotiating on behalf of your entire family
  • Think about the fact that collaborative negotiation will help the other person, too. It is not selfish.

More Negotiation Resources

This entertaining and informative Medium piece

Question: What’s one thing you could ask for tomorrow that would improve your job, work/life balance, or finances? You can leave a comment below.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner and/or an accountant for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

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