Negotiating Your Way Up

Following a parallel session on negotiation with Mesfin Asfaw of Paradigm Consultancy at the AWiB May 17th forum, some of the thoughts he shared became reflection points on women\’s bargaining power on the job.

You are a mid-level female professional with at least a minimum of 7-10 years work experience. You are faced with two types of possibilities: either to go up the ladder where you are or change the environment and start afresh elsewhere. Whichever of the two, there is one thing you cannot avoid if you want to go up: the negotiation.

Women all over the word are generally taught to be “nice” and “liked” and by all means avoid confrontation even when it is in their best interest to be confrontational. We all know the labels given to women who challenge the status quo and are not afraid of demanding what they deserve. Our cultural environment is no less sympathetic nor enabling for a woman to claim her worth and demand it. This is played out even more in the interview room at a new job or in the supervisor’s office when seeking greener pastures within.

Several North American based studies indicate that women are less likely than men to negotiate, which translates into a loss of half a million dollars in earnings over the course of one woman executive’s career. Although I am not aware of such research conducted in Ethiopia, I would not be surprised at the gaping hole of a figure in missed wages for women just because they did not negotiate for a better pay.

I remember a certain female executive of a large Ethiopian institution who once mentioned that in her experience of recruiting employees for the institution, she was always amazed by how male recruits got away with a larger share of the pie than female recruits of the same caliber and qualification. With the same amount of experience and skill-set, how the male recruit got away with more all boils down to the courage to negotiate. It’s not about the skills or saviness required of negotiating; rather a tradition of asking for what we deserve and the courage to negotiate for it is not something that is in abundance in women’s culture in Ethiopia or abroad.

During the AWiB May 17th forum at the UN Conference Center, Mesfin Asfaw of Paradigm consultancy was touching upon the issue of negotiation as it relates to women. Of eighteen characteristics he identifies of a good negotiator, self confidence and persistence are the ones that stood out the most for me as key in negotiating up the position or salary ladder. I think culturally we are afraid to be persistent on the assumption that those on the receiving end will find us obnoxious. Additionally, confidence in negotiating for a better pay or position is demonstrated through personal awareness of our market worth as well as the skill sets we bring with us. Banking on being noticed and appreciated in kind for hard work by your supervisor is just not enough for women who understand their worth. Settling for less than you want and know you deserve so as to not ruffle feathers leaves you dreading what you do.

I have been on both sides of the recruitment table on many occasions and can relate to both sides. In my experience as a recruit, I now realize in retrospect my many shortcomings in the past to negotiate, though I have to admit I have gotten better. While on the other side of the table, as a recruiter I have witnessed time and again, male recruits leaving the table or expressing a much higher worth than female recruits.

Although I don’t consider myself an expert negotiator, I can at least share these six points from experience:

  • – Understand your worth in terms of the skills and experience you bring to the table and have a figure in mind.
  • – Make sure you research and know the market value of the skills you are offering.
  • – You are not a recipient of “aid” as employment is an exchange. You give service and you get money for it so get over feeling grateful and settling for less.
  • – Build the confidence to articulate your position clearly and move away from the fear of losing the offer.
  • – Seek out a mentor who you can learn the art of negotiation from.
  • – And lastly, begin thinking along economic terms – opportunity cost or “the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative forgone or that is not chosen”

We\’d love to hear your thoughts on negotiating. And if you were at the parallel session on negotiation with Mesfin Asfaw, please share your insights too!