Brown Bag: Successful Negotiation Strategies for Women [Event Recap]

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The focus of SCWIST’s recent BrownBag Lunch Meeting on February 29th was negotiation skills. Denise Baker, Assistant Dean of the Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre in the Sauder School of Business at UBC, shared her insight into successful salary negotiation strategies for women. Her presentation was quite interactive and Denise effectively had the whole room buzzing when she let her audience try out some of their natural negotiation skills in a short role-play exercise.

“Believe that you are worth it and ask!” was the key message of this BrownBag session. Consequently, each of us first needs to clarify (a) what we are worth and (b) what we personally want.

Talking about money is difficult, especially for women. Reasons women feel far out of their comfort zone when negotiating salary are often deeply rooted in our cultural upbringing according to certain gender roles. Females are supposed to be “nice”; but, asking for something means requesting something, and a request always bears the danger of being denied, in which case the person making the request might be seen as unsettling and “not nice”. One way to avoid such a potential conflict situation is to never ask for something. However, in the context of salary negotiations this might mean a tremendous loss of money over the years. Another way to face such a psychologically stressful situation is to reframe it – Denise suggested taking the emotions out of the negotiation process by approaching it more as a conversation to reach a win/win agreement between both parties, than as a fight in which only one party can claim ultimate victory.

To be able to reach such a win/win situation with a potential employer we need to know how valuable our educational background, our individual skill set and our personal values are for the other side at the table. How could the organisation benefit from us? This is our so-called “industry worth”. In addition, the candidate going into the negotiation needs to research the current job market (industry, government, academia). Information on the region, the industry, the specific company gives us the advantage to be able to position ourselves well during the negotiation process. Many governmental institutions publish their salary schemes, many professional industry organisations provide their members with pay scales according to years of experience and qualification, but the best way to gain information on a specific area is to network and to talk to professionals who work in the field.

While such technical information on salary ranges and benefit packages is crucial for a successful negotiation, it is as well vital that we are honest with ourselves throughout the process. We have to clearly determine our personal goals: what do we want, what might we be able to live with and what do we definitely need to make ends meet? In principle one can negotiate everything: salary, bonus, benefits, vacation, performance review periods, flexible work schedule – it is up to the individual to prioritise some aspects during the negotiation and to decide how the offer and its individual components compare with personal needs and expectations.

Especially for the salary negotiation of STEM jobs, an important factor in the negotiation process is with whom one will be negotiating. As Denise pointed out, someone from Human Resources might have detailed knowledge of the company’s salary policies and greater room to negotiate, while the hiring manager might have a deeper understanding of the technical background and value of skills the prospective employee brings to the table.

After 1 1/2 hours filled with intense discussions and shared laughs, the audience left with a good understanding of the barriers that women face in negotiating salaries, and some tools, plus worldly wisdom of shared experiences, on how to overcome those barriers.

By Katja Dralle

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