The recent research about women and negotiation isn’t pretty. Often, women don’t negotiate for what they deserve. But they also face obstacles like a widespread pay gap and even backlash when they do negotiate.
But what if we raised girls to help them both master negotiation skills and navigate the challenges? Would that help us raise a generation of women who are more likely to succeed by the time they need to ask for what they’re worth?
“I think it requires teaching girls and young women more than just negotiating skills,” says Linda Hoke-Sinex, PhD, senior lecturer in the department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
Hoke-Sinex says context and personal development are also important. So, if we’re going to raise the next generation of good negotiators who happen to be women, here are some good places to start.
Around age 12 to 14, girls often experience a loss of self-confidence, Hoke-Sinex says. Even if girls are highly confident when they’re young, the “objectification and sexualization” they encounter at school and in the media during puberty makes them less sure of themselves.
“The literature calls it ‘losing their voice.’ At that age, girls tend to be reluctant to speak up for themselves,” Hoke-Sinex says.
It’s important not to criticize girls about their lack of self-confidence, but encourage them to advocate for themselves, says Elizabeth Daniels, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, whose studies focus on gender, media, body image, and positive youth development. That may include getting them involved in youth leadership programs through school or organizations such as the Girl Scouts of America.
Hoke-Sinex believes it’s important to be frank with girls and young women, in an age-appropriate way, about the challenges they’ll face. When she discusses issues like salary discrepancies between men and women with her students, she says at first they look deflated and sad.
But once they get past that, the conversation turns to how they can make changes, she says. This way, they aren’t shell-shocked the first time they encounter bias, but are equipped with some effective ways to handle it, she says.
Young girls are bombarded with messages about what it means to be female, says Erin Rajca, who works with at-risk girls at the Child Development Institute, a mental health agency in Toronto, Ontario. Parents, guardians and other adult influencers need to be aware of when they’re being critical, especially when it relates to young women “stepping out of a prescribed gender stereotypes box,” she says. Often, young women are taught that being “good” requires being polite and adopting a passive communication style.
During adolescence, negative self-talk becomes an issue that also affects confidence, Rajca says. Discuss the concept of self-talk with girls so that they recognize it. Explain that they can practice recognizing and redirecting those thoughts. It may take practice, but it can make a difference in how they feel about themselves.
“If, for example, when you’re telling yourself that you’re stupid, and I say, ‘If someone you cared about, like your best friend, said they were stupid, what would you do? Would you believe them? Probably not. So, why is it so hard for you to be kind to yourself?” she says.
While some believe that women are better off adopting a collaborative approach to negotiating, rather than a more direct or aggressive approach, women need to negotiate in the manner that is most comfortable to them. Daniels says it’s important to discuss the specific skills they’ll need and to be comfortable characterizing themselves as leaders.
Talk to them about looking at the goals they’re trying to achieve, how to think about what the other party wants out of the negotiation, and how to discuss the options to find common ground. It’s also important to discuss how to compromise and make effective concessions so they understand how to create an agreement that works for everyone involved.
Today, girls are offered a number of opportunities to practice their negotiation skills. Encourage them to participate in school fundraisers or other programs where they need to ask for something. Even making a case when they’re asking for more personal responsibility can be a good experience.
“Cultivate the thought that when they ask for something they have to have a reason why,” Daniels says. “I want a later curfew. I want to use the car. But how does that contribute to the family as well when I’m asking for something. It’s similar in a business context. When I ask for a salary increase, what am I contributing to the business?” Daniels says.