Job Search Series – Negotiating after the Job Offer – Part 2 – The Feminine Negotiation Mystique

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“I went back to Mark and said that I couldn’t accept, but I prefaced it by telling him, ‘Of course you realize that you’re hiring me to run your deal teams, so you want me to be a good negotiator. This is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.’ Then I negotiated hard, followed by a nervous night wondering if I had blown it.” ~ Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

There’s a lot of buzz lately about the need for women to enter into salary negotiations when they receive job offers. This is due in part to Sheryl Sandberg’s modern bestselling manifesto, Lean In: Women, Work, And the Will To Lead, in which she describes nearly accepting Mark Zuckerberg’s first offer to join Facebook without negotiating salary and other terms. Ironically, it was at the urging of her husband and brother-in-law that she went on to “negotiate hard,” and the result was she received an “improved” offer, which she accepted.

But, it’s not just C-level women like Ms. Sandberg who can and should negotiate. All women should ensure that they’re being paid what they’re worth. Negotiating a higher salary from the start will not only put more money in a woman’s pocket right away but will also increase her retirement fund, including her 401K, pension and Social Security accounts that are all based on her earnings. By negotiating higher starting salaries and continuing to negotiate throughout their careers, women can add thousands, even millions, of dollars to their career earnings and make great strides in closing the gender pay gap.

How Women Negotiate Makes A Difference

With the recent flap over Nazareth College’s withdrawal of a job offer from a candidate who calls herself “W” after the candidate emailed her negotiation checklist, the conversation has turned from “lean in” to “duck!” W shared her experience on an industry blog and her story and accompanying analyses were featured in both Forbes and The New Yorker. The incident is being used to illustrate how female job candidates who negotiate salary are held to a different standard and judged more harshly by both men and women.

But, I have two observations on this issue:

  • First, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that women are held to a different standard than men are in salary negotiations. Women continue to be viewed and treated differently in many facets of professional life, and gender equality in the workplace has yet to be fully achieved. Although women are as technically competent and can be just as tough as producers, competitors and negotiators as men, women must present themselves and their leadership skills differently. This is true whether they work at Fortune 500 corporations, on factory assembly lines, or in research laboratories, classrooms or space shuttles.
  • Second, the manner in which a woman negotiates is key to her success. Employers subliminally expect a woman’s approach to negotiation to be different from a man’s; thus, it’s even more important for a woman to remain in full winning interview form and avoid appearing aggressive, entitled or naive.

Tips & Techniques for Success

The kicker is that while men excel in negotiating for themselves, women generally are better than men at negotiating on behalf of others. And therein lies the secret of the feminine negotiation mystique: that communal sensibility that causes women to consider others in their decisions. That’s the quality that is expected from a woman and the approach she must take when negotiating, beginning with her compensation.

Following are techniques and tips for women when negotiating salary and other terms of a job offer:

Use a Velvet Glove Over An Iron Fist: A shift occurs in the way a woman is viewed as opposed to a man once the offer has been extended. While a male candidate’s hard skills continue to be paramount and appreciated and he is expected to negotiate hard, in the case of a female candidate the focus switches to her soft skills. A woman is expected to be “nicer” than a man, more nurturing and sociable; thus, appearing to be more forceful when moving from the interview to the negotiation phase often shocks and disappointments to the point of creating suspicion and immediate buyer’s remorse. Therefore, to negotiate successfully a woman must walk that fine line between gentle and firm and negotiate with a velvet glove covering the iron fist.

Keep Your Confidence Up, Your Stress Level Down. Remember those stress-reducing techniques you have mastered! And, if you haven’t mastered them, review them.

Negotiate Face-to-Face When Possible. It’s easier to understand, empathize and build camaraderie when you’re face to face with your negotiation partner(s). All parties can see each others’ smiles and make eye contact, put the tones of their voices into context, feel the warmth of their handshakes, take note of their appearances, posture and facial expressions. Eliminating any of those senses that help a woman to communicate and connect places her at a disadvantage. If circumstances dictate that you must negotiate via phone or email, review and practice the tips in my entry regarding the phone interview, and refer to this piece on negotiating via email.

Know Your Industry and Be Selective In Your Negotiations. Leave the sophisticated negotiation letter that covers multiple points to the seasoned executive whose attorney most likely will draft the letter. Instead, know the culture of your industry and the company making the offer, and keep your negotiations to salary and maybe one other item that’s extremely important to you. Don’t get ahead of yourself or overwhelm your prospective employer. Items such as maternity leave, working from home, change in schedule, etc., can be worked out later when you’re on the job. Convey by your communal attitude that you consider the negotiations to be a means to arrive at what’s best for all parties, including your future employer, coworkers, staff, clients and shareholders.

Listed below are further resources on negotiating effectively. Ironically, it’s challenging to find negotiation courses for the individual woman, as most are packaged for companies to offer to their employees or for high-level executives who can afford the high cost of a comprehensive session. So, read, watch and learn from the following:


  • Women Don’t Ask, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
  • Ask For It, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
  • Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success, by Deborah M. Kolb, Judith Williams Ph.D. and Carol Frohlinger J.D.
  • Lean In: Women, Work, And the Will To Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg


Additional Thoughts for the New College Grad or Other Entry-Level Candidate

Refer to the tips and techniques included in this entry as well as last week’s entry. And, as a newly-minted college or trade school graduate — female or male — keep in mind that while you likely have sharp technical skills and fresh ideas you lack the experience and accomplishments that employers value and are seeking. Therefore, situations in which you should at least think twice about negotiating — and perhaps instead plan to negotiate a salary increase, bonus and other items when you’ve been on the job awhile — include:

  • You’ve been unemployed for six months or more following graduation. You need to get into the job market, so if you’ve finally received a reasonable offer it’s usually wise not to nit-pick. It’s easier to land your dream job when you’re already employed.
  • You’re applying to a government job or any position where the starting salary is set and non-negotiable.
  • It’s a buyer’s market and the position you’ve been offered is highly sought after with intense competition. You’re fortunate to receive the offer and get your foot in the door. Unless the starting salary is ridiculously low you should consider accepting and start building your body of work for future negotiations. Remember that there are runner-up candidates waiting in the wings.

There are some rare exceptions in which you might consider negotiating salary and other terms of your first job offer; they include:

  • You possess exceptional credentials that are in high demand
  • You’ve been offered a position in a highly specialized position or in a high-demand field where there are few qualified candidates
  • You’ve been wooed by the employer
  • You are expected to assume an extraordinary level of responsibility

For guidance in assessing whether you fall into one or more of these atypical categories, consult with a trusted contact in your industry, your alma mater’s career center or a private career counselor.

Join me next week as I address the non-salary elements of your job offer package.

Until next time,


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