Negotiation. It might sound like a scary or intimidating word. Have you ever wondered why that it is? 

This is a process that is oftentimes portrayed by the media as one that can be cutthroat, harmful to women’s careers, and one that is deeply biased towards men. Most people see it as a way to manipulate others, particularly to do their bidding. Thanks to the media, we oftentimes see a winner-takes-all-approach, which can appeal to our egos, but it isn’t an accurate portrayal of promoting resolutions to tough problems and issues. It is in the tough problems and issues when negotiation (in its truest sense) is most required. 

What many also do not realize is that we negotiate for what we want on a daily basis. Negotiation may have a reputation problem, but we are always negotiating for better conditions in our lives. For example, you’re negotiating when you’re requesting a little more cream in your coffee or if someone would switch seats with you during your morning commute or if you need a co-worker’s opinion on a report or a project. In each of those situations, you’re automatically negotiating for something else that will improve a situation for you. So, why is it when we discuss negotiating for salary or benefits in the workplace that women tend to shy away from the process? Let’s take a look. 

Accepting It Early On 

Early in our careers, women are more likely to just say “thank you” than anything else after landing a job. This is the stage when women should begin negotiating their salaries. What we may not realize because we’re so happy that we landed the position we wanted is that our current earnings reflect our potential earnings in the future, as well as our retirement. While this topic is typically considered unsexy and boring, it is one that should be learned early on. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking back to how I used to manage my career in the past, particularly in my twenties. I was always so nervous about what someone thought of me or happy that I was getting paid that I never negotiated. Now I am very different and I would hesitate to walk away without having the opportunity to ensure that I am being paid fairly.  

What happens when you don’t negotiate? Well, as we know, we leave money behind. However, you are also telling a potential employer that you are unclear on your value or that you’re not going to assert it. I find that to be troublesome because we negotiate to solve all types of problems daily, so why is it a problem to negotiate and state our value? What I have learned from my clients is that they may be fearful of pushing the envelope. Some may be fearful of what someone will think of them. Others may not know how to have the conversation, or are concerned that it will cost them an opportunity. What some may not realize is that if they don’t have this conversation now then it will be even more difficult — if not impossible — to try to do it later when seeking a promotion. Also, if a potential employer truly doesn’t value you then why would you want to work for them anyway? 

You’re also leaving the door open for a male co-worker to earn more when they negotiate. Only 30% of women negotiate, while 46% of men negotiate. This adds up to quite a bit of lost revenue over time, including your retirement. It also contributes to the gender pay gap and can keep you from earning from what you truly should be. 

Conditioned From Childhood 

Many women have the need to be viewed as a hard worker who is trustworthy and ambitious. Women who negotiate tend to be viewed as greedy and selfish. This is a bias that we need to continue to check because our own thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors are holding us back from making more money. Sadly, some women do hope that one day someone is going to walk into their office and make them an offer even though the likelihood of this occurring is next to impossible. Women report an overwhelming feeling that they will be punished for asking, so they opt out. 

Women are simply too fearful to ask. We have been busily nurturing the idea of getting our foot in the door and accepting something for now. This is how we have become conditioned to sacrifice our value in exchange for public recognition, with hopes that it will occur over time. As we continue towards closing the gender gap, negotiating will continue to play a key role. 

I’ve developed training for women as part of my career coaching program so they negotiate their job offer. I find this to be important because women should not just accept what they are offered and say “thank you”. I also believe that it sets the standard for expectations within the relationship because it states that you know and understand your true value and what you bring to the table. 

However, women do need to continue to check their own mindset because we have been conditioned from childhood to play it safe. And it’s that notion of playing it safe that harms us. Are promotions and asking for more a reward for doing a good job? Quite simply, no. 

According to a recent article from Quartz, the trend in attitudes towards negotiation between genders differ. Women do tend to believe that they need to meet every qualification before seeking advancement. I notice this same trend when women apply for jobs. I encourage my clients to stretch themselves and apply for positions that interest them and in which they meet the major qualifications — not all the ones on the list. Understanding what you bring to the table is very powerful in a career because it drives our purpose in life. If you don’t understand your value, then what motivates you? Why do you get up each day and go to work? We spend so many hours at work, there shouldn’t be any reason to be unhappy, underpaid, or unfulfilled. 

If you’re reading this and you feel that way, I encourage you to go make a change in your career. Either find a new job, ask for more money (or benefits), or take more — or less — responsibility. Whatever it is, I encourage you to seek what fulfills your purpose and dreams, live fearlessly, and always assert your value. 

The sky is the limit! 


  • Valerie Martinelli, MPA

    Executive Career & Leadership Coach for Professionals

    Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC

    Valerie is currently the CEO & Owner of Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC. As a Leadership & Career Coach, she offers 1:1 and program-based coaching for professionals and resume, LinkedIn, and cover letter writing services.  As an HR Consultant, she offers organizations various human resource consulting services. Valerie is a member of CT's Women's Business Development Council Connect, SheSource, and an Advisory Board Member of Multifamily Women. She has authored numerous blogs, including Forbes, TalentCulture, Careers in Government, ProSky, and more. Valerie has her MBA Certificate in Women's Entrepreneurship from Cornell University, her Master of Public Administration degree from Post University, and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Connecticut. She has coached numerous professionals into obtaining successful careers and leadership positions as well as salary increases of $15K-$60K+.