Why Negotiation Skills Are Vital for Women in Tech

In their book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, economist Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever argue that women are less likely to negotiate on the job. They contend that their inability to be assertive in the work world leads women to lose out on pay raises and miss out on promotions.

Contract NegotiationObviously, that’s a real problem: Negotiation can be a way to increase job satisfaction, decrease attrition and rise up the ranks. According to a study by the Clayman Institute, Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-level Women in Technology, tech companies experienced an attrition rate of 41 percent of their female employees after 10 years, compared to just 17 percent for male workers. The study found that women hit a glass ceiling when they get into mid-level positions. Negotiating skills provide one way to break through that barrier.

The Value of Negotiating

According to Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, a systems architect and CEO of the HR automation company Fizzmint, women are often “socialized to be kind, to not use pressure tactics and to hope that their hard work will gain them money and recognition without having to confront anyone.” But the real impact of avoiding negotiation is $0.82 on the dollar, she says. “I believe that the moment of salary negotiation is minute-zero in the gender pay gap.” Much of your success on the job, she adds, is dependent on the ability to self-promote and claim the credit for hard work.

When it comes to getting a raise or promotion, knowing how and when to negotiate is a must. Wheeler Van Vlack advises women in tech to continuously practice their interviewing and negotiation skills. And female tech professionals shouldn’t discount their worth. “Your value is higher to a potential employer in tech because everyone is looking for women who can code,” she says.

Learning Negotiating Skills

Fortunately, negotiation skills, just like any others, can be taught. Wheeler Van Vlack suggests practicing with people who give great handshakes and have a forthright and direct presence. Whether it’s something as simple as a proper handshake or making eye contact, women need to be aware of their body language as well as what to say.

It also pays to tap into resources for women who want to develop negotiation skills. Wheeler Van Vlack co-founded Hack The People, an initiative for minorities in tech that runs workshops on how to effectively negotiate, interview and generally succeed in their career. The national nonprofit also hosts local meetups and mentorship groups.

You can also access resources for learning negotiating skills at universities, trade groups, and tech meetups.

Mentorship and Online Programs

While a ton of private coaches and organizations teach communications, leadership and negotiation skills, they require money. As an alternative, a number of women tech associations run free or inexpensive mentoring programs for their members, and negotiation strategy is often a part of them, says Nancy Lamberton, board member for Women in Technology, a nonprofit organization based in the Washington, D.C., metro area, and a leadership coach at the Nebo Company, a leadership consulting firm.

The growth of massive open online courses has created a number of free online negotiation classes. MIT’s Sloan School of Management, for one, has coursework and study materials online for its Negotiation and Conflict Management class, which explores the topic in an employment context.

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