It is 2023, and to our chagrin, men still achieve better economic results in negotiations than women. The research shows this, but as a career advisor, I also know it to be true. It is evident when coaching women on salary negotiations and career advancements, and sadly, despite knowing better, I, too, have fallen prey to the gender negotiation game.
The ability to negotiate is a necessary life skill. At its core, negotiating, requires a firm belief in what you are asking for. You need to be well-prepared, understanding intricately the pain points of the other party, possible fall out and consequences. Yet, even equipped with expert negotiation skills, women still struggle to gain traction.
I’ve witnessed the flinch; when women present with the same ardent belief, tone, and language as their male counterparts. So, is it any wonder, mid assertion, women swiftly change direction, reverting to ‘type’, softening the edge and ‘ask’, with a subtle kowtow, just to gain some ground, any ground? Perhaps, negotiations or any challenging business discussion should be conducted non-gender specific, anonymously, blindfolded and with voice distortion. Then we might have a better chance.
What is most disconcerting is that males and females share the same psychological refute. How can we allay blame at society, expecting the collective to take up the baton when absconding our own responsibilities? Ridding gender prejudice can’t be conditional or at our convenience.
For any women reading this, consider your own biases. Who are the authority figures in your life; who are your Doctor, Accountant, and other role models? The historical patriarchal workplaces have socialised employees into believing and consequently acting like women are less valuable based on power, privilege, and status. This is why we settle for less when negotiating.
The good news is progress is being made, especially post-COVID. Looking at senior leadership roles, the ability to negotiate is implicit, whether in dealmaking, board level, or on behalf of your team. Globally, the proportion of women in C-suite positions is increasing. In 2021, 26% of all CEOs and managing directors were women, compared to 15% in 2019.
Even better, Australia is following suit. Women hold 25% of leadership positions among the top 20 largest companies, up from 15% a year ago. It’s not a bad statistic, given women only comprise 26.3% of all full-time employed persons in Australia. But we can do better. We need more than numbers and statistics. We need a universal belief, not lip service.
To be better negotiators requires increased female workforce participation rates and at the pointy end of organisations, please. Not only for providing much-needed and continued inspiration, motivation, and encouragement. But mostly, it makes it the norm. Then societal bias and ridiculous labelling, such as being aggressive, disappear.
While pushing for those top-end positions, don’t give us the hospital pass. Research shows women are more likely to be picked for top corporate roles when a company is in turmoil and not due to a prudent selection of skills suited to pressure situations. But because the risk of failure is high, discrimination as a subterfuge strategy. Each fall from grace, ‘failure’ further erodes trust in women as leaders. You can keep these glass cliff opportunities.
The shame of it- women are talented negotiators. Dare I say; we have the gift for it, all things being equal, with the blindfold, name changing and voice distortion, that is. It is almost proverbial that women are more skilled with emotional intelligence. As such, we pick up what is not being said more easily, i.e., the invisible ink on the deal.
Post–pandemic and during the great resignation, we got better at self-advocating. With the cost of the empty seat being too high, the talent shortage forced a relook at all biases- gender included. Let’s ensure our increased confidence in negotiating wasn’t a temporary change of narrative or blip of courage.
We must keep practising. There is a sharp dip in female workforce participation from our late 20s through to the late 30s. Yet, male participation remains stable, providing increased experience, ordinarily leant on for leadership positions. Consider the time taken out of the workforce for family commitments. Which athlete takes time away from their training, performance and competition and comes back ready, firing at the same level as those who haven’t been out of the game? None.
Written by Roxanne Calder.
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