Executive Development Program Helps Women Succeed at the Bargaining Table

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The group of twelve women in this three-day program on negotiations crosses generational boundaries—baby boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials. “Gender still gets in the way,” one woman in her forties says. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this anymore.” Another woman nods. She’s also mid-life, mid-career. “We’ve come a long way in terms of setting up a structure to support egalitarianism. The problem is that the rules, those structures, are often not really enforced.”

Suzanne de Janasz
Suzanne de Janasz

Suzanne de Janasz, PhD, is an expert in conflict resolution and negotiation and a passionate and well-published advocate for women in the workplace. She is also the founder and leader of the three-day “Engaging and Succeeding in Negotiations” program, one of the newest of the School of Business executive development programs. Lifelong learning is a key element of Mason’s core mission, and the programs offered by Executive Development reflect a variety of professional needs. Offerings range from custom programs developed for companies or organizations, to those designed for individuals seeking career growth as leaders in data analytics, risk management, and human capital advancement.

The negotiations program is not advertised as only for women and the tagline, “Capitalizing on Everyday Negotiation Opportunities,” does not suggest only women will benefit, but this first cohort was all female. Appropriate, perhaps—women, de Janasz points out, still initiate negotiations 25 percent as often as men, unsure of their ability or afraid others will see them as aggressive. In the closing months of 2019—postmillennial and mid #MeToo movement—women clearly still need to learn to ask. Women who don’t negotiate salary early in their careers can, over time, leave $1 million or more in unrealized wages on the table.

One younger participant says she accepted the first salary offered, “I didn’t want them to think money was the only reason I wanted the job.” Another young woman adds “we assume people are being fair.” She continues, “girls are trained to be fair, so we expect people to be fair to us. When I was offered my first job, I assumed the salary they presented was what the position was worth, so I didn’t ask for more.” De Janasz says, “There are still companies that have no women’s room on executive floors, still deals made on golf courses where women CEOs aren’t invited to play.”

These conversations provide a clear picture of what women in the workplace continue to experience. Most reasons women don’t negotiate salary as often or easily as men center on how they continue to be socialized in American culture. Women who negotiate are seen as demanding or bossy, traits most girls are encouraged to avoid. Girls are still raised to avoid interpersonal conflicts. The implicit message is that a female’s personal worth is less important than group harmony. The discussion also uncovers the vast difference in the way men and women present—and listen to—information.

The narratives the women share imply men have less patience with longer, more anecdotally-based requests—an issue of communicative dissonance not appropriately accounted for. If male bosses stop hearing a woman in the middle of her negotiation, she leaves empty-handed. This puts the onus clearly on women, not men, to change their approach. Part of what de Janasz teaches is the importance of preparing a clear ask comprised of facts and data and devoid of emotion. When approaching a male boss about a raise, giving him numbers showing improvements initiated and results achieved is more effective than describing the same in a narrative.

An older woman notes that “Women just entering the workforce don’t immediately see the discrepancies, they don’t understand some of what their older female colleagues mean when they talk about bias and double standards.” There is a women’s group at her company—a regular meeting where women discuss workplace issues. “A lot of the younger women won’t come. They either don’t see a need yet, or they think their attendance will make men see them as needy.” As innocuous as this sounds, the effect is that by the time a woman feels she’s facing different—more intense—pressures than her male colleagues it’s too late. Burnout or, at least, the slow itch of dissatisfaction, has taken hold.

A woman’s confidence and ambition depend on her feeling fairly treated; knowing her gender does not stand in her way. In 2014, Bain and Company[1] published research showing that in the first two years of their career, 43 percent of women aim for top management, while only 34 percent of men do. After that, a radical shift occurs and women’s aspirations and confidence about reaching leadership positions nosedive. The percentage of men aiming for top positions stays steady while the one for women drops to 16 percent. The study is clear that women leaving to pursue marriage or motherhood does not cause this drop; the statistics are virtually the same for the married and unmarried, the mothers and child-free. Further, though women make up 40 percent of MBAs, only five percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are female. [2] Clearly, not every CEO has an MBA, but this indicates the different career trajectories of women and men on the same path.

The women here work in diverse settings but share stories of daily micro-negotiations—the “death by a thousand cuts” of women’s workplace satisfaction. They mention being implicitly expected to do the unpaid, menial tasks—taking notes at meetings, organizing parties, keeping office kitchens clean. These chores are not counted in performance reviews or compensated and leave them overworked, underappreciated, and with less time for their actual jobs—making it harder to achieve the same successes and promotion rates as male counterparts.

Inability to negotiate these areas of her work life—let alone negotiating with colleagues for leadership roles—erode a woman’s happiness and desire to do better. When female staff feel undervalued and unable to speak up, companies suffer through attrition, lost productivity, and erosion of critical diversity. This diversity is more than a nod to social norms—it affects a company’s bottom line. Numerous studies demonstrate that the more organizations embrace elements of diversity—including gender—in their culture and on their board, the more prosperous the company and more satisfied and loyal its workforce.

Engaging and Succeeding in Negotiations has a different feel than the other executive education programs, which are longer and cover broader business topics. Using her research and global experience in negotiation, leadership, and gender, de Janasz has developed a three-day course that takes a deep dive into the culture of negotiations. It’s a hands-on exploration that enables participants to address their deficits in negotiation with new skills and improved confidence. This bolsters organizations with self-assured employees who recognize their value and are inspired to contribute. Companies who foster this attitude—through programs like this or others—see across-the-board, lingering, positive effects.