Thursday, August 27, 2009

Negotiating Life

I met up with my friend A., in DC this week. We kept missing each other on my previous trips, as she’s spent the past few months in Kenya. She’s leaving her gig at the World Bank and striking out at Yale this fall on a not-too-definite work future.

“Something happened in Kenya,” she said, “Where I realized that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean ‘No.’” I pointed out that sometimes ‘yes’ doesn’t really mean ‘Yes” either and we chuckled together, knowingly (she has Midwestern roots, like me). But it got me thinking.

I recently read a book called “Women Don’t Ask”, about gender and negotiating. The book was so depressing I could only skim most of it (hence my previous disgusted flame post below), but it raised a good point. Women don’t make demands, even if they are reasonable. And, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

One of the things that stuck me from the book was that men see themselves negotiating in every day life and women don’t really think about it. Women were hard pressed to come up with a solid example (besides negotiating with kids, which is no small feat) of using these skills often enough to warrant even a memory. Simply put, men see everything as a potential negotiation whereas it doesn’t really occur to us women that we could be negotiating! (Aside: This lead me to ask for a discount in my tires last week, and I got it!)

A.and I talked about the double standard between women being treated like a doormat or being labeled a bitch (or, my personal favorite, “emotional”). Personally, I fight between standing up for myself and being liked at work all the time. It’s a tough line. We both decided that as we get older, we get more confident in ourselves, and much bolder.

“I just finally realized that if something that will mean THIS MUCH (arms out for emphasis) to me, means someone might have to give thismuch (fingers pinched) for me, it was worth asking. Not only in gratitude, but also in the ways I could pay it forward.” A. said.

I couldn’t agree more. I also think that if we don’t ask for the moon either, we won’t get it. I met a women in Sri Lanka who had taken five months of unpaid leave from her job to finish up field research for her master’s degree. When I asked her how she’d finagled that, she said she’d been emboldened by a book on women and negotiation and decided to ask for more. In the end, her company even helped her secure a visa into the country!

Turns out, that we women so undervalue ourselves that we’re happier with less. Even when we ask for something, we don’t go far enough. After reading this book, it occurred to me that I’d fallen into this trap on my last salary negotiation (which is about the time I put down the book…). Also, as a sidebar, I don’t necessarily agree that this is a bad thing - the concept of “enough” seems to be lost on the general America public.

But the fact remains, that we’re getting short-changed and double-standarded all over the place. If we play hardball, women are seen as ‘difficult’. If we try to get along, we do twice the work with less compensation.

There is a fellow at my work who claims that because he has a Master’s degree, he shouldn’t be photocopying thing all the time. His statement made me angry, but it made me even angrier that I have a Master’s degree and this thought didn’t even occur to me (perhaps because I'm not a pompous ass).

Anyway, I congratulated A. I admire her. She’s taking some big risks, hoping that this ‘no’ can eventually be turned into something she wants. When we stretch ourselves beyond what we think is possible, that’s when we find true happiness.

1 comment:

AnthroGirl said...

Amen to that sister. And not only that we are shortchanged, but we settle for less, because we think that settling is safety and security. I say, reject all that tempts you to settle or that offers you security. Reach for the damn star!!! I learn something from you every day. Be well my friend:)