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For Women Who Hate Negotiating, 5 Steps To Making The Ask

For Women Who Hate Negotiating, 5 Steps To Making The Ask
Quinn Texmo, a member of CREW's Omaha chapter

A traditional negotiating seminar aims to teach its participants how to negotiate. Rarely does it tackle the deeper questions, like why men tend to look at negotiating as a sports-like challenge, while women tend to approach it as they would going in for a root canal.

That was the obstacle for Quinn Texmo, a past chapter president of CREW who works in business development at Turner Construction Co. and her friend and mentor, Endicott Clay Products Architectural Representative Lisa Lackovic.

Texmo and Lackovic were well aware of the gender dynamics in negotiation, having confronted them personally throughout the courses of their careers and shared in the experiences of their female colleagues.

Some studies have found that women are more reluctant to initiate compensation negotiations than men. Other studies have found that women ask for raises just as often as their male peers. Regardless, studies concur that women are less likely to be successful in negotiations than men, and that fewer women than men receive raises.

Is that because women are worse negotiators? Not technically: Research shows that, rather, gendered behaviors on both the negotiator and the counterpart, as well as social norms and perceptions like "niceness and demandingness," impact both a woman's likelihood to initiate a negotiation and a negotiation's outcome. 

Gender is one of the most enduring topics of study in the field of negotiation, and one could wade through the findings for days. But on the bottom line is a consensus that gender dynamics in negotiation are a major factor in the gender pay gap. In commercial real estate, as in many industries, various studies have found women make somewhere between 15% and 23% less than men on average.

Motivated by a desire to help close that gap, Texmo and Lackovic set out to help provide better salary negotiation resources — resources that might help improve comfort level, confidence and skill when it comes to broaching the ever-difficult salary conversation — to women in their local CREW chapter in Omaha.

Here are five points they teach.

1. Recognize The Gender Dynamics Of Salary Negotiation

“For so long it was so taboo to talk about money," Texmo said. "Society is telling women, you need to be quiet, you need to make everyone like you. And if you ask for something or try to negotiate for it, there’s a fear of, what if they don’t like me at the end of the conversation?” 

Texmo said these anxieties are far from uncommon, a product of “imposter syndrome, or the thoughts that we as women are conditioned to think.”

She added that identifying and acknowledging those thoughts can help future negotiators find a more level footing with their colleagues who excel at negotiation — and with their employers — and position them to pursue their goals, be that a salary negotiation at hiring, a raise, a promotion or advocating for some other objective in their professional life.  

“We need to tackle that psychological component — put a name to it, make it less scary — before we begin to actually formulate the structure of the ask,” Texmo said.

“If there’s such a pay disparity, and men like talking about [salary] whereas women are afraid to, it seems like that’s going to add into that pay disparity. So, we spend a lot of the time digging into the psychological component — how you psychologically prepare for going into a negotiation, and getting over whatever is holding us back.”

2. Know What You Want — And What You’re Willing to Settle For

According to Texmo and Lackovic, another early requirement for a successful negotiation is to identify your goals — and the minimum you’re willing to walk away with — before the conversation even begins. 

“What is your baseline?” Texmo asked. “What is the bottom thing you’re willing to accept?”

This isn’t only about a paycheck. Employees receive all kinds of compensation, from salary and bonuses to benefits to vacation to flexibility around location and hours, she pointed out. 

“We also talk a lot about evaluating your alternatives, in terms of negotiating your total compensation,” she said. “You might hear, ‘There’s a threshold, and I can’t go above it to pay you.’ What else can we look at?” 

She suggested a cellphone bill, a company car, additional vacation time (which is generally paid out at departure from a job if unused), or the ability to work at home a couple of days a week, could all be terms of negotiation, the latter of which could mean saved time, reduced commuting costs and other pluses.

“To me, it’s not all about the salary. Salary is very important, don’t get me wrong, but there are a lot of alternatives if they can’t meet you where you want to be,” she said.

3. Build Your Case

Of course, once a person gets comfortable with asking for more and has a handle on what she wants to ask for, there is still work to be done.

“You can’t just go to your supervisor and say, ‘I want a 10% raise,’ and expect to get it,” Texmo said. “What experience and what things have I done for this company that directly impact the bottom line?” Texmo said quantifying those successes and converting them into a return on investment for the company will help close the deal.

“The unfortunate thing is you have to take almost everything back down to how you’re improving your company’s bottom line — or if you’re in a nonprofit sector how you’re stretching every dollar,” she said.

From her background in architecture, engineering and construction, Texmo said it is often easier for technical staff to accomplish this than for non-technical staff. She suggested that for those with roles that are more about strategy, lead generation or other less tangible, less numbers-based results, keeping a running log of successes throughout their employment is important. “When it does come time to go in and make the ask, you don’t have to wrack your brain and go in through all the emails and calendar appointments to see what you did for the last year.”

Aside from one’s own accomplishments and value, there is the data of measuring oneself against the industry standard. In these cases, it helps to have data. CREW’s gender pay gap research, tools like Salary.com and Glassdoor, or a new CRE-specific salary database personalsalary.com can all be sources of data to help CRE employees measure their own pay against industry standards. 

Company size, city, years of experience and other variables may all factor in, but when objective data is available, there are few things more powerful.

“One woman [from a past seminar] negotiated a 22% pay increase. That’s life-changing,” Texmo said. “She went in with the data. She didn’t have to make an emotional appeal. She just set the facts down on the table.”

4. Practice Makes Perfect

“If you are gearing up to sit down and talk to your boss about a pay increase, you want to run scenarios about ‘What could he or she say to me?’ and ‘How could I respond?,’” she said.

“The big thing is to try and remain levelheaded in your response, because in any negotiation, if emotions swing one way or another — you get defensive, tense up, even a change in body language — you can sense the power shift in the conversation. It’s important to pay very close attention to that.”

5. Be Prepared For Any Outcome

In some cases, women may sense a negotiation would be useless from the outset — and research has found that when women feel there is no point in making the ask, they are usually right

But Texmo said that where there is a sense of potential, taking the initiative to make an ask can be fruitful, even if the fruit it bears isn't a compensation increase.

“Not only does the person making the ask come out with a boost of confidence, but the person on the other side has a higher level of respect because you’re demonstrating your work when you lay all that out in one conversation and it’s hard for someone to ignore that,” Texmo said.

On the other hand, a “failed” negotiation may just tell a worker more about whether they are a fit for the company.

“Whether it’s not the right fit, you’re not getting respect from your boss or the company — sometimes it’s just the right time to go,” Texmo said. “There are companies that treat employees more like a number than as a person, and they’re going to be harder to work with if they’re so bottom-line driven.“

There are many external variables that can dictate, case to case, whether a move is possible, she said, but she recommends looking at the situation as a whole, and weighing the risk versus reward.

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For now, the seminars are local to Texmo and Lackovic in Omaha, and Texmo said there is a “standing rule” that “they have to have a happy hour and there has to be wine.

"It loosens people enough that people are actually willing to have conversations about salary,” she said.

“My favorite thing about doing this training with people is that story hour [in which women share their negotiating and salary experiences], because all of a sudden people just completely let their guard down, and you have authentic, real conversation about things. And that to me is the No. 1 thing that’s going to lead to change.”