Negotiating Tactics for Women

While doing the reporting for an article about negotiating academic job offers in a tight job market, I had an interesting conversation with Sara Laschever, an expert on how women approach such talks. Ms. Laschever wrote Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide with Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University. Although the book was first published eight years ago, it still resonates with women whose eyes it opened to the idea that avoiding negotiation literally doesn’t pay.  For women on the academic job market now—actually, I bet some men on the market could benefit, too—here’s some of what Ms. Laschever shared with me:

What are some mistakes that women make in negotiations?
They over-identify with the other side. Women have this tendency to protect and take care of people. But you need to allow the other side to negotiate their side of the discussion. Women also tend to ask for too little. They should talk to people to get a sense of what men ask for and shoot for that. If you aim too low, not many places are going to say, “No, you didn’t ask for enough; take more.” You need to think about what your market value is.

How important is doing research on an institution before the negotiation process?
You have to do it. Do your research, and find out what the constraints are. You can find out about severe budget cuts, for instance. If it’s a state university, that information should be very easily available. If it’s a private college, it might not be as severely impacted because it has an endowment to fall back on. But you can go online to get more information about how the endowment is doing or to find reports from the board. You might be able to connect with people in particular departments or people in your field or even people that you know from graduate school about how tight things really are. The important thing is not to guess.

What if the information you dig up about what people are paid isn’t that great?
If you still want to work there, then you need to think about what to ask for other than money. You want to feel like you’re valued and you want them to signal that by giving you things that are valuable to you that aren’t money.

What should people know about the pace of negotiations?
Don’t try to negotiate until you have the offer. If you signal that you want a lot when they’re feeling stressed financially, they might not make you the offer. Once you get the offer, proceed slowly. Try to read the person. Volunteer a little bit of information, and when you do that, they’ll share something. Share what your constraints are, what your goals are. Argue from the position of your own value. Remember that you’re going to have to work with these people and you don’t want to antagonize them before you even arrive. People tend to act a little more negatively toward women who are aggressive than toward men who act the same way. Still, don’t accept less than you need because somebody else’s feelings might be hurt.

What if you don’t get what you want? Can you try again once you’ve put in some time on the job?
Assuming that they value your work and you’ve gotten good reviews, you can say, “I want to be recognized in line with what I’m worth to the institution. What can I do to make up the gap?” Sometimes that works. But often women think, If I deserved more, then they would give me more.

Is there a technique you recommend to make negotiating easier?
A lot of women are nervous about negotiating. It’s really good to get together with someone and role-play. Ask the other person to take it seriously. Get them to push your buttons and practice responding calmly and moving things in a positive direction away from conflict and emotionalism. Get them to explain why they can’t give you what you want. That gives you some practice on drawing them out so you can figure out what to say to remove whatever roadblock they raise. You can always say, “I understand that you can’t give me what I want right now, but how close can you come?”

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