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A Life-Changing Tool for Women
on July 25, 2013
The male of our species seems to spring from the womb ready to negotiate everything. This tendency not only increases the wage and pension gap between men and women by the end of life, but it also adds to men's sense of empowerment and control in their world. Women don't ask, and as a direct result they get less. Exponentially less.
Why do we fail to ask?
Because we have this little voice inside of us, clucking and frowning. According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, who wrote Ask for It, we need to ignore that voice because:
"The little voice inside telling you not to do it (don't rock the boat, don't get pushy, why can't you be happy with what you have?) isn't your voice. It's the voice of a society that's still trying to tell women how to behave. It's a voice whose message is conveyed, often unwittingly, by our parents, teachers, colleagues, and friends - and then repeated and amplified by the media and popular culture."
The authors present numerous examples of the unintentional, unconscious, and overwhelming bias society applies to women. Like this: Female musicians applying for a job with an orchestra were 250% more likely to be selected if they auditioned behind a screen.
I know what you're thinking. "I'm fine," you say. "I don't deny that it exists. It's just that I personally have never suffered from discrimination." However, again quoting from Ask For It:
"Social psychologist Faye Crosby calls this `the denial of personal disadvantage' in which members of a particular group recognize that other members of the group have suffered but believe that they themselves have escaped it."
This bias without malice starts early. In a study, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey's Kisses.) Here's the heartbreaking result: In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% - 78% less than boys.
It adds up - or I should say down. According to the latest US Census, women still earn less than men in every category. But there's a simple way to overcome this ingrained self-doubt, self-effacement, and self-denigration: ASK. Simply pause before you agree to anything, and ask for something to sweeten the deal. Why not? What are we afraid of? All they can say is no, and then you're where you were before the ask. However, you might be pleasantly surprised.
I bought some furniture a couple days ago. The salesman tallied up the price, ending with "and delivery is $149." I looked at him and said, "Do you have any flexibility on that?" Without hesitation he knocked it down to $100. I saved fifty bucks with seven words! Men do this all the time. Per study after study, women don't. The authors found "clear and consistent evidence that men initiate negotiations to advance their own interests about four times as often as women do."
If you're unhappy with something in your life, assume it can be changed. How many of us assume the opposite, sigh, and keep plugging? This book includes many, many practical tools for learning to ask (as well as tons of examples and anecdotes, which made it fun reading.) In Chapter 10, for example, the authors describe "cooperative" bargaining (It's also called collaborative, or interest based, or win/win bargaining). It is more effective and comfortable than the traditional stony-eyed, fist-pounding version you might envision. Also - bonus! - this strategy is more natural to women. In fact, you probably use it every day with your kids, partner, and coworkers.
Now, here are some great tips taken from the book:
*Women specialize in waiting until they can't take it anymore and then blow up. Better to "assemble documentation, showing how you've increased the value, identify the best time to approach the boss, and make your case in a calm and businesslike way."
*Doing it sooner rather than later makes a negotiation easier. "The brain imposes costs when we worry about something, and the longer we worry, the higher the cost. The sooner you ask for something you want, the better the negotiation itself will feel."
As soon as my granddaughters are old enough to understand this book, I'm going to make sure they read it. Life is too precious to go through it with a self-imposed disadvantage.