Attention All Women: Time to Stand Up for Yourself in the Workplace!

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Stand up, speak out, stop apologizing, and have a plan at work because nobody else is going to do it for you!  It is time for all women to understand that the best advocate for them is themselves.  Forget about all those anachronistic ideas about how women “should” behave that we have mentally internalized over the generations and stop letting fears, self-doubt and lack of confidence keep your goals low.  Don’t fear failure and embrace the fact that success comes from failure and persistence.

Sounds good but exactly how are we expected to do this?

Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate.  There are many elements that affect our career trajectory, job satisfaction, and our compensation.  We need to be proactive in crafting our strategy and confidently advocating for ourselves in the workplace.  Women face certain challenges in how we negotiate and present ourselves, beginning with we can be viewed as “unlikeable”, “pushy” or “strident” when we are negotiating and advocating for ourselves whereas men are praised for these qualities.  We have a tendency to underestimate our professional value and have been socialized to avoid assertiveness and to be perfect and compliant.



Let’s talk about self-confidence and gender stereotypes…

Researchers believe that gender stereotypes hold women back in the workplace and further, cause women to question their own abilities!1 These historical stereotypes have become embedded in our psyches and we, as women, may actually believe they are true.  What???

According to a 2019 Harvard Business School report, women make up half the workforce, earn 60% of advanced degrees, yet bring home less pay and have fewer C-Suite positions especially in technology and finance. Department of Labor statistics states that women represent only 26% of US workers in computer and math jobs.

Women are shying away from the STEM professions, often even when they are high achievers, due to lack of confidence and instead they are buying into the stereotypical belief that men perform more strongly in science, math, and technology.  Harvard Business School Assistant Professor, Katherine B. Coffman,  says, “This weak self-confidence may hold some women back as they count themselves out of pursuing prestigious roles in professions they believe they won’t excel in, despite having the skills to succeed.”

Clearly, we as women need to work on our self-confidence and self-belief. In the book The Confidence Code, The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, the authors discuss the distinction of competence and confidence.  They state that “confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt.”

According to their research, even when women are very competent, they tend to dwell on failure and mistakes more than men and they let set-backs linger longer than men do which undermines their confidence.  Their research revealed that men tend to tilt toward overconfidence and on average rate their performance to be 30% better than it actually is.  They reference a study conducted by Hewlett-Packard which was conducted to figure out how to get more women into top management positions.  “The authors [of the study] found “that women working at H-P applied for promotions only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications for the job.  The men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60% of the job requirements.”2

The upshot is that women feel confident only when they are perfect!  We are setting impossible standards for ourselves and it is penalizing our professional growth – good is good enough ladies, and it is better than perfect because “perfectionism is not striving for excellence but being impaired by it.” (Gustavo Razzetti, Ladders)

Let’s focus on being good enough and daring to compete because essentially confidence is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine and dream from those who do, those who take action.

How do we address the likeability bias?  How do we trade agreeableness for assertiveness without being viewed as demanding and unlikeable?

According to a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, agreeable women are compensated less.  However, when women trade their agreeableness for assertiveness, they can be viewed as unlikeable and demanding. When a woman asserts herself, she is often called “aggressive,” “ambitious,” or “out for herself” as opposed to when a man does the same, and he is seen as “confident” and “strong.”3

Quite a conundrum indeed. The following are a few tips for confronting bias and asserting your opinions, beliefs, and ideas with confidence:

  • Stop apologizing: This kind of language steals the focus from your accomplishments and makes your arguments personal.
    • If you’re in a position to speak up for yourself, remember, you’re not asking for a personal favor. There’s no need to make excuses for your request.
  • Practice being assertive: The easiest way to do so is when the stakes are low.
    • Get comfortable standing up for yourself over the little things and it will gradually become second nature in other parts of your life.
  • Frame your arguments communally: Research has found that women have an easier time negotiating when they’re advocating for other people.
    • State how your request or argument is in the best interest of the company or your department.
  • Ask for feedback: Preemptively and regularly ask for feedback from supervisors and management.
    • The goal is to show your employer that you want to do your job better and then execute on it.
    • Commit to improving, then check back a few months later having made those improvements.
  • Get the Most Out of Meetings: Compared to women, men tend to talk more and make more suggestions in meetings, while women are interrupted more, given less credit for their ideas, and have less overall influence.
    • Work towards actively engaging in meetings and conversations – don’t be invisible keeping your valuable and worthy opinions to yourself – speak up with confidence!

Source: Leanin.Com

Know your worth AND Negotiate!!!

In Barbara Stanny’s book, Secrets of Six Figure Women, she lists traits of underearners, or women who undervalue their earning potential.  These traits include a high tolerance for low pay, a willingness to work for free, and live in financial chaos (What??? Are you kidding?? Who works for free??).

Harvard Law School research states that deeply ingrained societal gender roles are the root cause of the gender gap in negotiated outcomes. Women are expected to be accommodating and concerned with the welfare of others, more relationship-oriented.  These characteristics clash with the more assertive behaviors required for successful negotiations that are more in line with societal expectations of men such as being competitive, assertive, and profit-oriented.  As a result, many women are uncomfortable and reticent to strongly negotiate on their own behalf and are fearful of a backlash in the workplace if they do so. 4

Analyzing the most recent Census Bureau data from 2018, women of all races earned, on average, just 82 cents for every $1 earned by men of all races. The calculation is the ratio of median annual earnings for women working full time, year-round to those of their male counterparts, and it translates to a gender wage gap of 18 cents.5

Research suggests that 20% of women never negotiate at all. A woman who opts not to negotiate her starting salary upon graduation will forgo an average of $7,000 the first year and will lose between $650,000 and $1 million over the course of a 45-year career.6

So, do you want to potentially lose a great deal of money over your lifetime because you are uncomfortable negotiating or are afraid of a backlash?  Not negotiating is a real economic cost that can be a game-changer to your standard of living throughout your life!

Let’s make negotiating the norm NOT the exception!

It is up to each of us individually to take responsibility for advocating and negotiating for ourselves.  We need to capitalize on experience and training to reduce the gender gap in negotiating skills.   According to a Harvard Business School report, women achieve more favorable outcomes at the bargaining table with more negotiating experience because they develop a greater sense of negotiating protocol and they shed traditional gender expectations as they gain experience. That makes sense right? The more you do it, the better you get!

A few pointers in general negotiation are:

  • Don’t let a lack of power get to you. A lack of objective power can harm one’s sense of psychological power, with detrimental effects on their outcomes. Use visualization to bolster performance and outcomes at the bargaining table by thinking about times when you had power in a negotiation.  Remember that mindset.
  • Do take practical steps to boost your power. Even as you work on enhancing your psychological power, there are steps you can take to improve your actual power at the bargaining table by taking a proactive approach, being prepared to make mistakes initially and learning from them as opposed to being deterred by them, and practicing your negotiating skills as much as possible, even with friends and family.
  • Stand-Up to a Hard Bargainer.  These are the toughest negotiators that make everyone want to retreat.  Don’t be intimidated, rather have your facts in order, be confident, and state your case.

You can get a free report from Harvard Business School on Negotiation Skills, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator at this link:

Here are a few tips on how to tackle salary negotiations:

  • Quantify your accomplishments. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare…Knowledge is Power
    •  Put a number on your contribution to your workplace.
    • If it’s possible to put a dollar figure to these accomplishments, do it.
    • Research the typical salary range in your field, and reference these facts during your negotiations
  • Bring documentation.
    • Don’t rely on memory or management to simply trust that you’re being underpaid.
    • If you believe you’re being paid below the market rate, you might print out salary information from similar positions and companies.
    • If you believe you deserve a raise based on merit, you might save an email thread about your last workplace achievement.
  • Show improvement.
    • Here’s where collected feedback about your work and your progress comes into play.
    • Implement the feedback and improve your skills, then follow up, prepared to make the case.


It’s a Journey…Stay the Course and Don’t Give Up!

In order for women to begin closing the gender equity gap in their professional lives, and frankly, all aspects of their lives, they have to take responsibility for themselves and enhance the skills needed to compete and level the playing field.  Nobody is going to do it for us, and once enough of us start doing it, we can change the norm of viewing assertive confident women as pushy and belligerent to strong and courageous (you know, how men are characterized now when they stand up for themselves) and effective negotiators.

We must gather our confidence, recognize our strengths, and have the courage to negotiate on our own behalf and not give in at the slightest of push backs.  We can be confident in our own authentic way – we don’t have to mimic men and act like them.  We can act like our authentic selves and still be effective negotiators!   Be confident in your differences!

  1. Harvard Business School
  2. Leanin.Com
  3. The Confidence Code, The Science and Art of Self-Assurance –What Women Should Know, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
  5. Census.Gov

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