Ellevate Network San Diego’s Women Who Ask: How to Become an Expert Negotiator event was the chapter’s first event with a virtual speaker, Heather Mills. Heather founded Women Who Ask, as an attorney, negotiation specialist, certified coach, and consultant.
The event covered how to negotiate the promotion and pay raise you deserve even if you’ve never negotiated before and how to earn the respect of senior management without being seen as a “greedy, overly demanding diva who thinks she’s all that,” with a step-by-step strategy to increase your pay up to 30%.
- Wondered why your career has plateaued
- Become fed up with feeling undervalued
- Been putting off a conversation about salary/promotions
- Been afraid to ask for more because it might confirm your fear that you’re not worth it
- Worried you’ll never get paid what you deserve
Heather said to know these are symptoms, not the true problem. The real problem is that you haven’t made the mental shifts needed. Once you make those shifts, you’ll be able to decide where you want to go in your career and you’ll know how to progress and level up your career year after year. You’ll be able to command the salary that you deserve and stop worrying about your ability to save for retirement, to send the kids to college, and you’ll take that trip to Italy that you’ve always dreamed about. You’ll have the confidence and certainty in the true value of your contributions, that you can leverage into doing more work that you love.
“You’re going to jump out of bed excited to head to work on Monday mornings. And I know that for some of you guys, that doesn’t seem possible, but it absolutely is when you feel valued, and you feel like your work is meaningful. And you’re going to be bursting with pride knowing that the work you do is meaningful. And that is what I want for all of you,” Heather said.
Heather was a class action lawyer for 10 years, specializing in employee harassment cases. She now specializes in helping professional women negotiate pay raises, promotions, the full compensation package, and everything else they want in their careers.
“I’ve helped hundreds of women advance their careers and increase their incomes. I want to tell you how I discovered the five shifts that I’m going to be talking about. When I began working as a class action attorney, I saw other women negotiating multimillion-dollar settlements, and I decided that I wanted to learn from them. I also saw that there were women who were better at negotiating on behalf of their clients than they were for themselves. And over time, I identified the ones who not only negotiated well on behalf of their clients but who could also negotiate for themselves, they had made these mental shifts. So I started experimenting, using these shifts in my career and I started to have success. I eventually left class action practice and I started my own executive coaching practice, sharing these shifts with my clients, and they started having success. Ever since then, I’ve been working with professional women to help them get pay raises and career progression that they absolutely deserve. So that’s what I want to share today with you, those strategies, so that you don’t have to waste time with the trial and error that I did,” Heather said.
There are five key negotiation mental shifts that you must make to transform your career and get the income you deserve.
- Develop the million-dollar mindset
- Create a strategy
- Leverage your unfair advantages
- Taking a stand and speaking up for yourself
- Invest in training, coaching, mentoring and practice negotiating
Negotiation Mental Shift 1: Develop the million-dollar mindset
There’s no escaping the fact that negotiation is a million-dollar skill set, If you’re not negotiating, you’re paying a huge cost, not only in money but also missing out on the opportunities that you want. Heather presented data from the Harvard Business Review about a scenario with a 30-year-old woman with an MBA and a male colleague with similar experience who both get job offers of a hundred thousand dollars a year at the same company. The man decides to negotiate up $15,000. The woman decides not to negotiate because it’s more money than she’s ever made before, and she doesn’t want to rock the boat or risk the offer. Over the course of a 35-year career, comparing the woman’s salary to the man’s salary using a modest conservative estimation and assuming that each person gets a 3% raise every year until retirement, over the course of 35 years the woman earns about $6 million and the man earns $7 million. The woman loses almost a million dollars. And that’s from a 15 thousand dollars starting salary difference resulting from negotiation.
“So you can tell yourself that it’s no big deal, it’s not worth asking, it’s not worth being labeled high maintenance, but it’s clearly a big deal. It’s a house, it’s a college degree, it’s college for your kids, it’s the freedom to do the things that you want in your life. Even if you’re not motivated by money, you still ask for it because your salary reflects how much value your employer thinks you bring to the company. If you don’t need the money, donate it to causes that you care about but don’t let a company take advantage of you or wreck your confidence in the value that you bring,” Heather said.
The truth is that pay raises aren’t handed out because of performance, or personality and how likable you are, or because of the results that you get, none of that matters. If you don’t ask for that raise the right way, your company will be happy to continue to underpaying you year after year until you start to wonder if it is your fault, that maybe you’re not good at your job as you thought. “If you want to earn more, you must show up with the mindset. Thinking about a million dollars slipping through your fingers. You must show up, putting your stake in the ground for those earnings and what those earnings can do to change your life, and the lives of your family members,” Heather said.
Negotiation Mental Shift 2: Create a strategy
Have you ever worked up the confidence to finally go in and ask the boss for more money? Or do you just work harder and wait to be noticed, wait for someone to say you deserve a promotion and raise? Have you waited to see what happens in your performance review, thinking maybe you’ll have a conversation after that? Do you tell yourself not to play workplace politics? We hear this all the time: Let your work speak for itself, you’re above that “yucky distasteful stuff,” etc. etc.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, Heather has some bad news. “Those are not strategies that are going to work. I know, because I tried many of them. Working up the confidence to go in and ask for more money, it absolutely does not work. This is not the time to beat around the bush, it’s not the time to be passive aggressive, it’s a time to be really clear about what you want.”
Heather said 90% of your success depends on the strategy and the preparation that you do ahead of time. “If you approach this passively, without really knowing what you want, hoping that your boss will tell you what you’re ready for, you can be guaranteed that you will be overlooked and underutilized and underpaid for years on end. But if you commit to a strategy that you can implement over time, a suggested three-to-six-month time period, then you can get your manager on board as a partner in the process to help you make this happen.”
Start with the end in mind, and reverse engineer it to discover the steps you need to get there, Heather said. But first, you have to be really clear about what you want in terms of a role or the salary, and then research the outcomes that you need to achieve for the company to be able to get that role and salary. A lot of people think that the hours and years they spend at work will justify pay raises. But you have to show the numbers, have quantifiable results that demonstrate your value.
Putting together a strategy will help you find those numbers. Heather spoke of a burnt-out client at a global law firm who hadn’t had a raise in four years and felt taken for granted. She was skeptical that negotiating could actually change her situation because she really had no idea where to start and never successfully negotiated raises before. She didn’t understand that she really needed a strategy beyond asking for more money. Heather helped her build a strategy to position herself as the solution to her employers business development challenges, and pitch a new role as a business development person with a flexible schedule to prevent burnout. She told her client to communicate in a way that made her employers want to listen to and she showed them the quantifiable results she already had achieved in business development. She ended up getting a promotion to the business development manager position, a 29% pay increase, and a flexible working schedule. She no longer worries about the rent increases, saving for retirement, or her ability to help her aging parents. She no longer feel stuck in her career, she feels confident about her career path now and her new opportunities.
Negotiation Shift #3: Leverage Your Unfair Advantages
How do we have these conversations if we don’t know how to negotiate, or if we don’t like confrontation, or if we’re worried that our boss is going to think that we’re greedy? How do we get our boss to truly see the value that we bring to the company? Heather said to use your secret weapon, the third shift: leverage your unfair advantages.
Conventional wisdom says that men are better negotiators, but the truth is, women have an unfair advantage when it comes to negotiating. They have innate qualities that men often lack which actually make women better negotiators. There are five skills you need to be an effective negotiator, and women tend to be rated higher in at least three of these categories. Women tend to be more empathetic, more emotionally intelligent, and they can read body language and facial expressions better. We use those skills to build trust.
“So why do I call it an unfair advantage? Well, honestly, because the reason we have these type of skills is completely unfair. Women have been in a support group for thousands, if not millions, of years. It developed these skills, our relationships helped us survive, because we didn’t have access to the resources, we didn’t have access to property, etc. If you feel like you are empathetic emotionally, you can build trust. Let’s leverage those skills,” Heather said.
How do you actually negotiate that promotion or pay raise? The old way is what you see in the movies, or what your well-meaning friends or family members tell you that you need to do, usually male friends and family members. They say, if you want to get that raise, you have to be tough and aggressive, play hardball and demand what you’re worth, you have you ready for battle, you have to tell lies about what you were earning before and say you have another offer and give your boss an ultimatum to match the offer or you’re walking out.
“Except that deep down you think, is that really going to be effective for you? Can you really imagine yourself using that advice when you suspect it’s not really going to work? You’re right to be suspicious, maybe if you’re negotiating with a mattress salesperson or car salesperson you might get away with that kind of behavior because you don’t have to see that person again. But this is your manager, this is someone you’re working with day in and day out, someone who’s has to approve your vacation requests. So the old, outdated way of negotiating, where you have to act like an aggressive jerk, is simply destructive and ineffective. And it’s not just ineffective for women, it doesn’t work for men, either. The repercussions for women are usually worse. So if you do this, your boss is going to think you’re greedy and overly demanding. But honestly, that’s not the worst outcome. The worst outcome is that you believe that this old way of negotiating is what you have to do to get ahead. And you decide that it’s not worth it, so you don’t negotiate and you accept their lowball offer and end up being underpaid for years on end, stagnant in your career, losing your income and losing your sense of self-worth along the way.”
The new way to negotiate is to leverage those unfair advantages that you have: be empathetic, be emotionally intelligent, read those cues, and then build trust, because negotiating is really about relationships. And you need to have trust to be able to let that relationship grow.
We use that trust to create a way to get on the same side of the table as our managers. They become partners with us and find creative solutions so that we can both get what we want. There’s not a winner and a loser. When you do that, you use empathy to truly understand what you can offer to your manager so that he or she wants to become your champion or your advocate, that’s when you advance your career.
You can use those trust-building skills to have a normal conversation. You ask a lot of questions and put your focus on the other person, you want to understand their perspective. That’s what you need to do in your negotiations, use empathy to understand how you can frame what you’re offering as something that’s going to benefit them. Find trade-offs beyond money. When you make it about money alone, it does become more adversarial. This is about collaborative problem solving, it doesn’t have to feel icky or manipulative.
Women are incredibly effective at negotiating on behalf of others and creating these win-win agreements on behalf of others. We are just as effective as men, and now we need to do this for ourselves. Where would you take your career, if you knew that you could ask for and get what you want without having to battle for it?
Negotiation Shift #4: Taking a stand and speaking up for yourself
Not being adversarial doesn’t mean you’re a pushover, it doesn’t mean that you’re compromising your needs and becoming a doormat, it means that you stand firm in your own needs in a professional and assertive way. And the key to being able to do that is believing with unshakable confidence that you deliver value in your performance and in yourself. If that sounds challenging to you right now, Heather said it is absolutely possible for you to gain a 100% confidence and certainty in yourself and develop the practices to ignore those voices of self-doubt and listen to the best version of you, who knows without a doubt that you’re capable of figuring out whatever comes your way.
A Senior Project Manager at a film production company, who loved her job, was feeling really frustrated because she was starting to wonder if her company would recognize her value. Eight years earlier, she accepted a pretty low salary to get her foot in the door. She’s been kicking herself ever since as she’s been working her way up the ranks. She was an effective leader at this organization but she was not getting the pay raises to fit with her titles. She knew some of her direct reports were making more than she was. She was watching less experienced colleagues get promoted ahead of her. She realized that she needed to stand up for herself. Heather worked with her to build her confidence and prepare her pitch and make that pitch to get the promotion. She did end up ruffling some feathers, and that felt really uncomfortable for her. But at the same time, by making this pitch she ended up gaining visibility and respect for the management team. She made a promotion to a higher position, she became a department head and she got a 24% raise. And she felt in control of her career to never go back to being underpaid again, now that she had these skills. So by standing up for herself, she changed the way she saw herself and the way that management saw her as well.
Some level of conflict and awkwardness is a normal part of negotiating. Women are socialized to avoid this feeling. “Unless you’ve been in an environment where you’ve built up that muscle of tolerating and fighting and conflict, it’s going to be uncomfortable. But when you believe in yourself, you can tolerate that discomfort. Because you know, it’s not about you, it’s not about your self-worth. It’s simply part of the process of two people trying to reach an agreement. So when you speak up for yourself and say what’s important to you and what you need, in a very professional and respectful way, you convey confidence and certainty in your value.
When you don’t stand up for yourself and try to meet everyone’s needs but your own, you’ll feel resentful and taken advantage of. Others start to see you as not a powerful person. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you might end up watching other colleagues getting the credit, getting the high profile jobs, getting those higher salaries, and watching your sense of integrity disappear.
That act of standing up for yourself is incredibly empowering. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, Heather said.
Salary Negotiation Role Play
The event then featured a salary negotiation role play with limited information on both sides, where someone was taking a leave of absence from the company and a male manager was asking his female employee to take on that role. He saw it as a jump in title for her and had it all worked out with HR and his buddy who was leaving, before speaking with her. She saw it as an empty title with extra work and giving up the projects she loved, with no long-term advancement prospects or salary increase. He expected her to say yes right away. She had many questions he couldn’t answer.
Heather described this scenario as the glass cliff, a term used when a woman is given an opportunity but is basically shoved off the cliff because she doesn’t have the support, resources, or the clarity to be successful. In order for this not to happen, you’ve got to really get clear about the parameters on what success is going to look like. Otherwise, if there’s no clear definition of success, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be unsuccessful.
Use your unfair advantages to create a connection, make small talk or do anything to establish rapport. That is one of the critical steps, you absolutely need to take the time to reestablish the connection. Research says that small talk is absolutely necessary, to remember that you like each other and you want to help each other out.
You can say thank you for the opportunity, I really appreciate it, but be careful. “You want to be appreciative and grateful. But think about the difference between ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Oh, my God. Thank you!!!’ And ‘Thank you for recognizing me, as a leader, thank you for recognizing me as someone who is capable of this.’ Those two things are different in confidence level and the message that you’re sending. In these kinds of scenarios where you don’t actually want to say yes, or you need to figure out a different way of coming to an agreement, don’t be over the top about it. You want to convey that you want to negotiate. If you don’t make it clear that you want to negotiate, they’re not going to understand. The other person may want you to just say yes. What we ultimately want the other side to do is ask you questions. You could say, thank you for recognizing me, I have some concerns about the way that you laid this out. And leave it at that, because what you really want them to say is, ‘Oh, wait, what are your concerns?’ Get him to ask her questions, to make this shift, where he’s like, ‘Oh, wait, okay, I need to think about her and her needs.’ Because what the guy offering the not-ideal, temporary job in the role-play has been thinking about is his needs, his friend’s needs, and the company’s needs,” Heather said.
What leverage did the female employee have? The manager had already set this up for her, so he didn’t have a backup plan and would look bad taking it back, he was kind of held hostage for her to take the job, because he had already done everything without actually asking her. He thought he was doing her a favor because he was taking some responsibilities off her plate. But he didn’t have a conversation with her about what that would mean for her career. It could potentially hurt her future if she gets her performance review, and she doesn’t have that finished project to show for it. So the two of them really needs to talk about ideas while and how she can continue on this project, or how she can get credit for it.
Other leverage is that he probably doesn’t have anybody else who can do it, she’s probably the best person for the role. That gives her a lot of leverage to push back and define the parameters that are going to work for her. It has to be that back and forth, Heather said. She really needs to ask a lot of questions. Good managers know to have set parameters at the beginning to define what it looks like to be successful. It’s really a two-way street.
Audience feedback on the negotiation role play
An audience example: “I got a new job offer. It was my first time trying to negotiate a salary offer because I thought I had nothing to lose. The shift I did was think I was the best candidate so he’s not going to turn me down just because I tried to negotiate. Recognize you have a lot to offer. This far in the process, they really don’t want to lose me. They don’t want to lose the time and the money spent in the process. And they are absolutely going to give you more money if you ask for this. But when negotiating salary, we know this gap exists, and it goes by gender and race. It’s very difficult for me to walk in and say “I want this,” because I’m last in the food chain [of the wage gap, as a Hispanic woman]. So how do I negotiate?”
Heather says whether you’re a man, or a woman, or a woman of color, the same rules apply to the skills that she teaches to be an effective negotiator. “I don’t teach anyone to go in and make a demand. Because demands could ruin the relationship you have with your manager. I think it’s really about creating, building a connection, where we trust and having the information to back you up. But know that what you asked is absolutely reasonable,” she said.
The next audience question was about the role-playing scenario, where the woman could say thank you for the offer, can I have some time to think about it, so she can get all the information or statistics. She asked if saying, ‘I’d like to get back to you,’ was an okay to do, because typically we want to react. We don’t approach it the right way.
Heather said the idea that a negotiation takes place in one conversation is wrong, it is a series of conversations, an ongoing conversation. It’s absolutely a great idea to ask if you can get back to them about it. Say, ‘Yeah, I’d like to think this through, and can we meet again on the next day, and talk it through after I’ve had some time to reflect?’ She said the worst thing that you can do is react in the moment, emotionally. What we want to do in negotiations is be really self-aware, and bring our emotional intelligence, so that we are calm, cool, and collected.
The next audience question was about what to do if the manager says ‘we’ll talk about that again later,’ and if that means they are manipulating you.
Heather says she thinks part of your education strategy is you need to push back on the idea that we’ll figure it out later. “What I always recommend my clients do is close the loop, by saying, ‘Here’s that option. Let’s discuss it tomorrow and come to a decision.’ It takes assertiveness, there’s no question. The other part of that is to get things in writing. That may be as simple as following up with an email where you’re confirming what you decided, or what you’re agreeing to look at. And that’s the way to keep moving things forward, by putting it in writing. I’ve seen it time and time again, where you get an agreement with a manager, and then your manager moves on to another job or another department and the new manager doesn’t know anything about your agreement, or the manager says they don’t remember it. Get it in writing, so that there is a paper trail, and if someone else needs to step in we can essentially impose your agreement. That could be just sending the email to your boss after you come to the terms. You just say, ‘Hey, I just want to recap our conversation, the exact XYZ, you know, I really appreciate the opportunity, looking forward to reading the results.’”
Tone is really important. In your tone, you can convey enthusiasm and excitement, you can convey anger and disappointment, you can convey resistance. The tone that gets you the results that you want most often is usually neutral, maybe skewing to the enthusiastic, an optimistic excitement. But anger, defensiveness, resentment, tension, that kind of energy typically shuts down negotiations. You want to be really enthusiastic and positive that you’re going to get to the agreement that you need.
Match your accomplishments to the business goals
Heather said that in terms of having quantifiable things to talk about, whatever your accomplishments, match them to the business and organizational goals. It can be difficult, a lot of times you’re in roles where you’re managing projects, and that tends to be a lot harder to quantify. Sit down with your manager and have a conversation about what can be quantified, how can we measure whether or not this is successful and helps toward business goals. “I think people are totally open to brainstorming on this because they know that it’s going to benefit the organization. Whenever you can measure and track, people love that,” she said.
Negotiation Shift #5: Invest in training, coaching, mentoring and practice negotiating
Feedback is a hot word right now, the importance of requesting feedback. We don’t learn negotiation in school unless you have an MBA or law degree. The fact that girls often
put others first and play nice puts women at a disadvantage because we’re simply not confident in negotiating for ourselves. The good news is everyone can learn to negotiate.
The number one factor that increases negotiation success is training and mentoring. Don’t wait until you’re negotiating these details with your manager. But practicing on your own without any feedback is challenging, you need a mentor.
“Right now, you have beliefs about how far you can advance in your career, and your manager and mentors also have beliefs about how you should advancing your career and what those strategies are. Do you have blocks about what you can possibly reach in your career? Those beliefs, and that strategy, actually determine what you do. And what you do determines the outcome of what you get in terms of your income, meaning in your career, and the impact it has. So if you want to change your beliefs about what’s possible, and the strategies that you’re following, that is the power of mentoring. If you’re not happy with your income or career, you need a new mindset, you need a plan, and you need to take action. You need a mentor who is guiding you with that process and holding you accountable for doing it,” Heather said.
She said the honest truth is that it is the best learned from a woman who knows how to do. Men don’t face the backlash and lose face when they’re negotiating for themselves. It also doesn’t make sense to work with someone inside of your company, who can’t give you an unbiased opinion about what your blind spots are, what results you really need to get, and what your salary should actually be. Mentoring and coaching pays for itself within six to 12 months, building on that character promotion, and then the investments continue to pay off as you negotiate again and again in your career and in your personal life.
To negotiate, there’s no need to be adversary or aggressive, you can leverage and access your advantages as a woman to create that connection, and figure out how to create a win for you and a winning career. That doesn’t mean that there are no conflicts, you still have to stand up for what’s important to you and your value. You have a choice, you can keep doing things the way you’ve done before, you can avoid negotiation, you can keep working extra hours hoping that your boss will magically notice and promote you, you can keep watching others who are less experienced get promoted ahead of you. Or if you’re done with all that, and you want to learn the technique to negotiate without being someone you’re not, Heather offered a free call with her to learn how to apply these ideas in your career. Whatever your biggest challenges are, she’s seen them before. Her ideal clients are targeting six-figure salaries at for-profit companies.
Audience negotiation questions
For that three to six months lead up time for negotiating, where you’re planning and documenting achievements, do you work extra hard during that amount of time? Or are you trying to just deliver exceptional results? Are you trying to do something above and beyond to create this case when you do go to your manager?
Heather said you need to get your boss to agree to things along the way. You’re going to set up and agree to things ahead of time, and then show your results and talk about what you should be earning at that point. So have an assessment, a discussion, beginning where you set these steps to achieve these goals. The discussion is not your final thing.
“I think that’s the trap that a lot of us women fall into, that we think we have to prove ourselves by working hard and getting results. What we really have to do is talk about it, negotiate it ahead of time, and continue to talk about it over and over and over again. It’s not a one-time discussion,” she said.
What about when salary expectations are required on a job application? When we know we’re not supposed to discuss salary until there is an offer, what do we do? Especially in online applications that require numbers for the salary.
Heather said that is a huge issue. More states are now making it illegal to ask about your previous salary. But it’s still legal to ask you about your salary expectations. You want to avoid that question. It is never going to benefit you to tell them what your previous salary was, she feels strongly about that. You have to find ways around it. It’s uncomfortable, especially if you’re working with recruiters who are going to keep pushing and asking you the same question. You can keep deflecting the question by saying, ‘I would need to find out more. What if they’re not a good fit?’
An HR audience member said on those online applications just put what you feel you deserve, she puts 10% above what she’s currently at, because you’re not going to take a job where you’re making the same amount of money or less. You can ask them what their compensation structure is, what their cost structure is, ask if they offer bonuses, if they offer annual increases, do they offer remote work, etc.? And so you can ask those questions before you give them them the range.
You don’t want to start the negotiations until they’ve offered you a job. If you can’t even submit your resume without filling out that salary field, put 9999999999, a nonsense number, then they have to recognize that is something that you’re going to negotiate later. Heather wanted to discourage us from talking about numbers until it’s time to negotiate, and it’s not time to negotiate until they’ve offered you a job.
Thank you, Heather!
Find out more about Heather and Women Who Ask.
Find out what upcoming Ellevate Network San Diego events might interest you!
Read the legal perspectives about salary negotiation from a past Ellevate event with Pam Vallero.