Women and Negotiations

Recently I was in a negotiation for a new position. Usually I do not like to negotiate but I learnt that if you do not negotiate well you will later never be satisfied with your salary or other elements of the job especially if you constantly feel that you are undervalued. I believe that men are a lot better at negotiating the packages they feel they deserve than women which is one of the reasons why experienced and well qualified women are often lower paid than their male counterparts. There might also be an unconscious bias on the part of the person you are negotiating with. My major learning from the last years in Switzerland is though that you should not settle for a bad package. I learnt that compromising on salary and grade eventually lowers your motivation for a certain role even if you love what you do.

We tend to say „money is not everything“ which is basically a rationalization of our failure at reaching the salary and grade level we expect and deserve. I have also heard statements like „We do not care about titles here.“ or “How will your title make a change in how you perform on the job?”

I do not believe this statement especially if it comes from a person who already has achieved a grade which is very high and respected such as a “Director” or “Partner”.

Maybe we (women) have not learnt to negotiate well when we used to have a male breadwinner at home. In the past a women’s salary might have just been an “additional” income but today women like me contribute our share to the cost of living. In some cases we might not expect a man to pay for our home and want to be self-contained.

In my last two roles I worked as a Global Mobility Leader and often got involved in package negotiations of expatriates. These packages can be very comforting especially if the expat is really the only suitable person for the role. I observed that good negotiators do this:

1)   They know exactly what their market value is even if they go to a different host market.

2)   They never accept a lower net salary.

3)   They never accept a lower grade.

4)   They want to understand the details of the role and the package.

5)   They do not accept the first written offer but come back with suggestions.

6)   They have a back-up plan and don’t lay all their eggs in one basket.

7)   They have defined some limits where they are not willing to compromise.

8)   They actually read the whole contract and attachments and raise questions on misleading provisions.

9)   They do not take all risks involved in an international assignment (such as tax risk, social security and health coverage risks, immigration risks).

So once I understood the details of my new role, I was very committed to doing this job. There were some disadvantages in comparison to my former role. I might not be sleeping at home every night of the week in order to meet clients abroad. I was happy to be flexible because I saw a lot of learning opportunities and the company is a well-respected leader in my field.  I was also happy to start on a very short notice (less than two weeks) and shuffle all my personal commitments around.

I understood (as so many times before) that it was critical that I was on the job fast to take over from another person or to pick up the shambles of the predecessor, who had already left (which happened to me most of the times).

I was getting concerned when we started to negotiate my salary. I thought I had build up a good picture earlier of my salary, bonus and title expectations. Sometimes circumstances can change but my view is that if the interviewers think that you are the best candidate for the role should they not meet your expectations especially if there had been discussions on these earlier on the process? Suddenly it seemed that all my flexibility was taken for granted while some of the basic discussion package points (salary and title) were offered lower than expected.

I am usually a hard worker and my former managers were happy to have me on their teams because I know what I am doing and I can be left running on a long leech. Now, I was wondering that if my future manager starts reducing my value already before I start the job is this a good basis for cooperation?  When I put myself into the shoes of a hiring manager I understand that there might be budget constraints but should you not discuss these with your recruiters before they start their search? Should you not brief your recruiters on what is a must have and where you see this role in the organizational hierarchy?

In negotiations you get to know your counterpart well. I have had cases where because of a bonus figure assignees did not accept a job in the last minute and I have seen people resigning and leaving their employer because they got frustrated about the negotiation process for an international assignment. Also many talented staff resigns, when for the second or third time they expected a promotion and did not get it. At the end of the day we do not just want to deliver we also want to get compensated fairly.  In my case I turned down a great job because in the last minute I found out that the grade for the role was lower than originally communicated. Call me superficial but for me the status that comes with a title is important especially in an international context and when you build up your network from scratch. Once your client, superiors and peers know you, the title might not be important but in the beginning of a new role a title helps people to find orientation. When you start on a higher level than in your last role usually it is expected that you were headhunted for this role. You gain credit. If you accept a lower grade it takes at least one or two years until you have built up the credentials and supporters for a promotion. I was not willing to compromise on title. So once in a while you might have to decline an offer and tell yourself that the next negotiation you will start at an even higher level.

Should the “war for talents” become really serious companies might also have to learn to negotiate better with female candidates because at the end of the day women often have more of a choice to decline an offer and they listen to their gut feeling.

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