Time to speak up -- How women can boost their negotiation skills
Kim Carney / msnbc.com
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updated 5/7/2007 9:06:33 AM ET 2007-05-07T13:06:33

Part one of a two-part series on women and the art of negotiation.

Shellye Archambeau knows a lot about how much men and women make in corporate America, having been a top executive for more than two decades, running major businesses at companies such as IBM and Blockbuster.

She definitely noticed a disparity in pay between men and women, but she also noticed something else over the years: Few women she supervised came a knocking on her door demanding more money. The men, on the other hand, were more likely to squawk for a fatter paycheck.

“It started to surprise me that many males on my team would stop by and have a conversation with me about their financial needs and expectations. Throughout my career I only had one woman actually come and talk about her financial needs during raise time. When people came, it was the men,” says Archambeau, who is now CEO of software company MetricStream Inc.

Could it be that women are partly to blame for the persistent pay gap between males and females in the work force? Are many of us lame negotiators, afraid to toot our own horns and bring up the taboo subject of money?

Archambeau thinks so.

“I don’t believe there’s a conspiracy out there with a group of male executives saying, ‘We’re going to pay women less in this company,’” she explains. She believes the squeaky wheels at pay raise time, which are often the men, get a few percentage points more than women who don’t ask for more. Over time, she surmises, those few percentage points contribute to an eventual huge pay gap between the sexes.

Indeed, despite advances by women in the workplace and the apparent attempts by corporations to attract more female employees, the pay gap persists.

And it turns out the chasm begins earlier than we thought.

Late last month, the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation reported that just one year out of college, full-time female employees are already making less than their male counterparts who work in the same field. And it only gets worse from there.

The report found that women earn only 80 percent of what their male colleagues take home a year after they get their diplomas, and 10 years later the number drops to 69 percent. Men were also more likely to be in positions of power and more involved in hiring, firing and supervising. (The researchers took into account parenthood choices and occupation.)

"These employees don’t have a lot of experience and, for the most part, don’t have care-giving obligations, so you’d expect there to be very little difference in the wages of men and women. But surprisingly, and unfortunately, we find that women already earn less — even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts," says Catherine Hill, director of research for the foundation. "We need to make workplaces more family-friendly, reduce sex segregation in education and in the workplace, and combat discrimination that continues to hold women back in the workplace."

It is impossible to totally disregard discrimination. A recent bias suits proves just that. Morgan Stanley agreed last month to pay $46 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the firm of discriminating against thousands of its female financial advisers by paying them less than men on the payroll.

Whether we like it or not, many employers and society at large still see men as the main breadwinners in the family, says Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University. “People often see women as the second wage earners, and that’s not an effective strategy for us,” she adds.

But even in the face of all these obstacles, it’s about time women started standing up for themselves. Everyone wants advancement and more money, but some women are not well-versed in the art of negotiations and shy away from the dreaded process with their bosses.

Pink, a women’s business magazine, found that nearly half of 2,400 women surveyed did not ask for a raise, additional benefit or promotion in the past 12 months. And alas, they’re missing out, because 72 percent of those who asked got what they wanted, according to the survey.

Women are just reluctant to talk about money, says Susan Wilson Solovic, author of "The Girls’ Guide to Power and Success." Women are comfortable talking about anything else in their lives, she says. We share the most personal details about our spouses or children, but when it comes to money we just shut up.

“Women are bad about negotiating for money because we are socialized to associate money with greed,” she explains. “We also are taught an ambitious and aggressive desire to accumulate wealth is not feminine.  We grow up believing in the fairy tale that someone will take care of us and we don’t have to worry our pretty little heads about money.  Perhaps that is why the majority of people living in poverty in this country are women and children.”

One of the key principles of negotiation is being able to promote one's self, and here women often fall down on the job.

“There is no doubt, women are less inclined to self-promote, and they’re more likely to accept what they’re offered,” says John McKee, a business success coach and author of “21 Ways Women in Management Shoot Themselves in the Foot.”

But acceptance ends up hitting women right in their pocketbooks. If you don’t start pumping up your negotiating skills right out of school, that can cost you big time.

Take the example of a young woman who at age 22 who is offered a $25,000 job but negotiates and gets the offer raised to $30,000.  If she gets a 3 percent raise every year, by the time she is 60 her annual salary will be more than $92,000, instead of $77,000 if she had accepted the lower offer. Over that 38-year career she would have made an extra $361,000.

Even with these compelling numbers it will take a lot for most women to don negotiating armor because it runs counter to how we were raised, says Carnegie Mellon’s Babcock, who is also the author of “Women Don’t Ask: Gender and the Negotiation Divide.”

“Our society teaches women not to negotiate. We get these messages from the time that they are born,” she says. “We tell girls to wait for things to be offered and not to rock the boat. We teach boys to go out there and be aggressive, to go after what they want.”

Just check out your local baby sitters.

Leslie Morgan Steiner, mother of three and author of “Mommy Wars: Stay-at-home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families,” says that over the years she’s employed about 30 sitters, mainly girls, and every single time she’s asked them how much they charged their answer was: “whatever you want to pay me.”

Morgan Steiner says she has done her part to help girls get some negotiating teeth by insisting that they come up with a price and coaching them on what to say to other parents. “I want to help them, so I tell them to say, ‘The going rate for a baby sitter is X.’ I try to give them language so after me they’ll be able to say what they charge.”

Girls need training right out of the gate. “If you can’t stand up for yourself as a 12-year-old baby sitter, you’re going to face a lot of problems because you won’t be able to negotiate with an employer, or the man you’re dating, or in so many other situations. I’d love to see negotiation skills taught in elementary school.”

Next week: Advice from the experts on how to become better negotiators, including tips from career coaches, money guru Suze Orman, and stories from women who learned how to ask for what they’re worth.

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