Salary Negotiations, Performance Reviews, Self-Marketing - Is There a Gender Difference?

A Case

Nicole was a superstar marketer in media. She had it all. Social media, the quantitative/research background/great work history/product knowledge/branding, you name it. You just couldn’t be any more qualified for the position for which she was interviewing. That became obvious to me after about ten minutes of our first meeting.  

She did extremely well on the interviews for a job as Chief Marketing Officer of a major well-known organization, one of the leaders in its field. It sounded to both of us like a job that would make her career. 

And she was terrified about dealing with the impending offer. Her inclination was to accept whatever was offered, because she was convinced that the CEO would renege if she even questioned any aspect of the offer.

We went through the basics (outlined in much more detail in the chapter of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work that deals with salary negotiations).  

  • First, she deferred conversation about money as long as she could, thereby building her value more than she could have if she had talked about it up front.
  • Second, she did not negotiate at the point of offer, because she needed to develop a negotiating strategy based on hearing the details of the offer.
  • Third, she developed a step-by-step strategy for a collegial face-to-face negotiation with the CEO and the head of human resources. Every issue she had questions about was incorporated into her list. She pushed back mostly on bonus issues, because the word “discretionary” was used, and that’s almost always a red flag; she was seeking a clearer definition of what that meant.  She did get that clarification, which was a major part of the negotiation in her case.

She did very well in the overall process, and, frankly, was astonished that the CEO and human resources people did not even flinch when she pushed back. They, as I had predicted, had expected it. 

Almost invariably, those who extend offers do expect some pushback, some negotiation. Actually, they are surprised if the offer is accepted on the spot.  

Nicole did not need for them to be her friends; this was a business transaction where she was trying to be compensated for her significant potential value to the organization.  

By the way, she’s now in line for the CEO position. The company is obviously thrilled with her.

If she had not negotiated assertively, she would have ended up unhappy in the position when she found out she was underpaid-–and she wouldn’t have clarified the bonus issue.  There were several other issues, too, that were clarified in the final phase of the process, as the result of a well thought-out strategy.   

I can’t wait to work with her on the next negotiation.  

Is There a Gender Difference?

For many years, I’ve been thinking about the issue of women and negotiating--or, as I like to call it, “making the ask.” While it’s important to be careful about stereotyping and generalizations, this seems to be one of those issues that appears and re-appears with my women clients and students, and hasn’t seemed to change much in the 30+ years I’ve been working in career advisement.  

In general, most of the women I’ve worked with have had difficulty in salary negotiations, performance reviews, and marketing themselves assertively.

I have tried hard to figure out why. I’ve found this to be true even with fulltime female MBA students in elite business schools, a population which you would expect to be more assertive and confident than most. Think about it – 26-year-old women (who grew up in an era where women can reasonably expect to do well in nearly any profession, including those on Wall Street) who have excelled in top colleges, done very well in their first jobs, and been admitted to extremely selective graduate schools, where the competition is fierce.  

Yet, when I teach classes on salary negotiations, I find that the women in the class almost uniformly will say this subject is difficult for them. Most of the men won’t. (Of course, there are exceptions to each side.)

Why does this problem exist? I’ve been trying to figure it out for a long time. Historically, culturally, psychologically, any way one could look at it. Is it because most women tend to be more relationship oriented and, therefore, more invested in caring that others like them? Maybe.  

I’ve often noticed that my women clients are usually better at building long-term networking relationships–-but when it comes to direct self-marketing, there’s still a problem. They’re frequently more comfortable joining groups in the career transition process, too. But still, taking credit and expressing confidence about accomplishments is often difficult. So I work with them on getting past worrying about whether the other person in the transaction is going to like them, or might withdraw the offer if they push back.  

Hey, it’s business! If you’re logical and present your material in a sequential, organized, factual way, that’s what will count.  

I’m convinced it’s some kind of hard-wiring , maybe cultural, maybe biological, maybe both, but that’s not my area of expertise. (Far from it.)  

If There IS a Difference, What Are Some Coping Strategies?

What many clients have asked is-–how can they overcome these feelings of discomfort in self-marketing and/or negotiating?  

I do have a fairly simple way of at least beginning this process.  

Prepare, Practice, Perform

I think this issue is similar to the problem of anxiety about interviewing. And, as with interviewing, it doesn’t matter how you feel; it matters what you say and what you look like when you say it. In other words, performance. Acting. You don’t have to solve the anxiety problem. You have to create stronger perceptions. That requires some performance practice.  

When talking about yourself, either in an interview, or a performance review, a meeting, or a salary negotiation, instead of getting anxious about whether you’re really worth it, why not prepare for these situations by outlining what you want to say and rehearsing it (back to the acting again)? If it doesn’t come naturally, do what I tell many introverted clients to do on a search-–prepare. Outline. And then prepare again. Don’t wing it. Don’t think you have to overcome whatever that hard-wiring is all at one time. Figure out what you want to say, how to say it, and practice it.

The first major step is believing that you have significant accomplishments, that you are worth the money and/or the job and/or the promotion, and write down all the reasons. Review your resume. You probably already spent too much time on it anyway, so put it to some good use. Yes, you did that. Yes, you helped the organization achieve that. Yes, you have this skill and that skill.  

Just in case I haven’t stressed the importance of asserting yourself (and “pushing back”) in the situations mentioned, here’s one more reason for negotiating. It sets the tone for your employment, should the deal be completed. You will make it known that, for salary reviews, promotions, etc., you will be a force to be dealt with.You will not be the nice person who will roll over and watch the more assertive co-workers get the promotion or get more bonus compensation, or new responsibilities.  Management will know that you will push back to get what you’re entitled to.  
Stand in front of the mirror and watch your body language when you’re saying your planned responses. Shoulders back, smiling, great eye contact, confidence (even if you don’t feel it).  

I realize that the above is basic, that many will still want to overcome the inner anxiety, or the need to please. In the meantime, while you’re trying to solve all that, why not focus on the performance and the content?