gender differences in negotiation

Can Women be Good at Negotiation? Here is My Experience

I will start by saying that I’ve even offended myself with the title of this blog post. Of course women can be good at negotiation. In a lot of ways, I think women are better at negotiation than men. Do women get better results than men? Prior research says they don’t, but recent studies show that is changing.

Wharton School of Business published an article about gender differences in negotiation and one key point stood out: it isn’t so much a battle of the sexes as much as it’s a battle of the self-confident. Think about it: how often do you see someone in a position of power and wonder how they managed to weasel themselves into that role? More than likely they are talented negotiators, all of their other skills be damned.

As a freelancer, I have had to hone my negotiation skills over the past two years and have learned a lot. In fact, that process in and of itself is one of the key points of the Wharton article.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Beth Ann Day, a managing director and chief talent officer at AllianceBernstein, told Wharton that she practices negotiation on a regular basis. She recalls a time she spent 45 minutes on the phone with American Airlines to negotiate a renewal of her frequent flyer status. She wasn’t entitled to the renewal, but negotiated and won.

“I opened the door and my assistant asked who I was talking to,” Day told Wharton. “I said, ‘I just convinced American Airlines to bump up my frequent flyer status even though I didn’t qualify for it….’ It was fun. I challenged myself and I won.”

A woman engaging in negotiation as sport is definitely foreign to me, considering the idea of a back-and-forth over money or services used to put me in a cold sweat. My reasoning? I didn’t want to “force” anyone into paying more what I was providing.

Day, on the contrary, not only negotiated for something she wasn’t necessarily entitled to receive, she looked at it as a fun challenge.

It’s All A Matter of Perception

I loved the point made that women actually have better negotiation skills than men, they just handle the stressful situations, multitasking, and crises differently. Men tend to “freak out” on the outside while women remain calmer.

This may elude to a lack of confidence, but the opposite is actually true. Since this culture defines confidence as that displayed by men, says Jennifer Pereira, a principal in direct private equity at CPP Investment Board, women should work on showcasing those skills.

I partially disagree with that point, though. Yes, this culture may define confidence as it is displayed by men, but I don’t think it necessarily rewards women for showing those same characteristics. If you are a woman with business characteristics defined as predominantly male, how are they perceived by your peers? I, personally, have experienced backlash when showing my aggressive, take-charge attitude in a business setting.

Undervaluing My Product

If I’m so aggressive and take-charge, why did I initially struggle with negotiating my rates? What I found is that I was undervaluing my product due to lack of confidence in what I was offering. As it turns out, many professionals struggle with this, including some of the most accomplished celebrities, public figures, and entrepreneurs in history.

One of my favorite Podcasts, High-Income Business Writing with Ed Gandia, touched on this point this week. Gandia talks about his own struggles with feeling like a fraud as well as the struggles of some well-accomplished individuals such as Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, and Albert Einstein. I’m glad to learn that it’s normal! I’m also glad to learn that I’ve seemingly moved past that stage.

Properly seeing the value in your own product is so important in effectively negotiating … I can’t stress that enough!

Women Are Defying History

Women shouldn’t psych themselves out that their product (whether it’s a tangible good or service) isn’t worth fighting for or that they aren’t effective negotiators, which seems to be the biggest stumbling block for women today.

“It makes me nuts when I hear someone like a female Wharton MBA say they are not good at negotiation,” says Day. “Well, you don’t have to really be that good; you just have to do it.”

More and more women actually aren’t getting the memo that they are supposed to be poor negotiators. Business News Daily published an article in April citing a University of Florida study in which MBA students of both sexes were asked to fill out a survey and then name a gift card amount they felt they deserved as a means of compensation. Every woman in the study asked for a reward and, on average, asked for twice as much as the men.

Samantha Miller, co-author of the study, wasn’t surprised.

“I always ask what I feel I’m deserving of,” Miller said. “I had an idea that women in my generation were similar.”

Hopefully we’re getting there.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Both women and men should stick with one overlying theme in negotiation: do not settle for a job that undervalues your worth. This was a tough lesson for me, but I don’t know that I could have grown any other way. It helped me determine what my rates should be and also helped me recognize that negotiating a fair price was in the best interest of all parties involved.

Why? Because as soon as I accepted jobs with compensation far under my value as a professional, those jobs fell by the wayside. I didn’t want to complete them. It was as though a magnetic force drew me to the jobs that were paying me accordingly.

This may be why I’ve gotten so much better at negotiating. Research has shown that women are far better at negotiating on behalf of others than they are at negotiating for themselves. Once my perspective changed that no one benefits from me being underpaid, I looked at coming to a fair agreement as a win-win.

So, yes, women can and should be good at negotiating. It’s something I am proud to have  notched on my professional belt, and — if you are a female in business — I hope you’ve notched it on yours as well.


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