What Women Can Do to Boost Their Negotiating Power

By Lucy Zielinski and Kelly Tiberio

The gender wage gap is a hot topic in the social and political landscape of our country right now. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, women earned 78.6 percent of what men earned in 2014. Some pundits contest the legitimacy of the “gap,” but the reality for many women is that it affects their ability to earn a wage that is commensurate with that of men. Some predict that the wage gap won’t close for several decades—and some say it will take more than a century―at which time most of today’s female employees will have exited the workforce.

The statistics behind the wage gap are startling, and, in some cases, the problem is further amplified by other factors such as ethnicity, age, education, and geography. For example, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that the best states for employment and earnings for women in 2015 were:

  • The District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Connecticut

Conversely, the worst states for employment and earnings reported were:

  • West Virginia
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Arkansas.

One can speculate about why this gap exists, but the burning question is: What can women do about it? Given the complex issues women face regarding the wage gap and the projected slow road to wage parity, today’s working woman may need some extra leverage when it comes to advocating for her professional and personal interests.

On the topic of negotiating, women tend to feel a great deal of apprehension about it and may describe it as being a painful process. Because of this perspective, women tend to avoid negotiations, and, as a result, settle for less than their male peers. According to Salary.com, 84 percent of employers expect prospective employees to negotiate their salaries, whereas only 30 percent of women do. Over the years, this adds up to millions of dollars in lost earnings.

If you anticipate being retired in less than 30 years from now, before the wage gap has all but disappeared, do not lose hope. The negotiating skills you learn today will brighten your financial future. You can and must advocate for your professional and personal interests.

Here are five key points to consider and questions to ask yourself prior to negotiating. Grab a pen and paper and write out your answers to these questions to solidify your perspective: 

1.    Take inventory of your values and objectives.

  • What do you truly value in life? What are your personal and professional values? Do they align or collide? If you are negotiating for a higher position and salary, will you need to make sacrifices? What will be the cost? If you are saying “yes” to something, what are you saying “no” to? What is your intended outcome?    

2.    Do your homework to understand what is important to the negotiator.

  • What are the main interests of the other party? What are the main negotiation points? What is important to or what are the needs of the person or organization with whom you are negotiating? Can you deliver and be successful based on their needs? How can you align your values and goals with that individual’s goals or with the organization’s?  

3.    Learn how to effectively communicate, ask good questions, and listen.

  • What is the other person really saying? What are the questions you need to ask to find the answers you need? Are you speaking in a way that establishes rapport with the other person? How do you ensure positive, two-way communication? Are respecting the other person’s point of view?

4.    Know your “ask,” and rank your priorities.

  • What are you willing to accept? (Note: Be very careful to not start negotiations here; start with No. 1 on this list and work your way down before you formulate your “ask.”) How do your “asks” or requirements line up in priority or importance? What are you willing to concede and what are you willing to walk away from? 

5.    Understand your options.

  • In the back of your mind, always be willing to walk away. If you walk away, what are your options? Knowing your options before you begin negotiations will provide you with a Plan B and minimize your fear. What alternatives can you ask for?

Just like all lessons in life, learn from your negotiating experiences. If negotiations did not go well or in your favor, ask yourself why, and what you can do differently next time. Remember that what is important to one person may not be important to another. In the end, if both parties reach an agreement with a mutually beneficial outcome, it is a win-win situation, and you will be lined up for success.

Lucy Zielinski
is vice president for GE Healthcare Camden Group in Chicago. Kelly Tiberio is manager for GE Healthcare Camden Group in Rochester, N.Y.