|Review by Carol Amoruso
“We’re smart, we’re hard working and we know we’re doing good work, but we still find all sorts of reasons for questioning whether we deserve more than we already have.” How this exemplary quote must resonate in so many of our ears! Its truth is one of many pointed observations in Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. The authors show how, after so many strides forward, so much harrowing of the social, family and career order, women remain reluctant to objectively assess their (our) worth and to then ask, assert, even demand that they be equitably compensated. But, they premise, by skillful negotiation, equity can be achieved.
While Ask For It offers a plan of action for overall growth, the authors’ focus is on the workplace. In clear and straightforward, though not condescending, language, Babcock and Laschever–who instantly yet still authoritatively become Linda and Sara for the reader—have followed their successful Women Don’t Ask, an exploration on what holds women back, with a near pain-free 4-point program geared towards enabling women to move from under-appraisal and low expectations to that platform of the practiced and successful negotiator.
After step one, helping women to appropriate for themselves from men that “everything is negotiable,” the authors move on to help lay the groundwork, devising basic strategies for achieving by now well-conceived and focused demands. Most helpful is the third chapter on getting ready: how to prepare for that meeting at which to use the negotiating skills the authors help hone. Notable here is their emphasis that asking for more than one’s target is more than o.k.; it’s expected. A final chapter offers role-playing exercises, tips on reducing anxiety, etc.; it acts as a dress rehearsal to quell the eventual butterflies once face to face with the honcho with all the big chips. If you are unpracticed in negotiating, go into training for it, is their theme.
Not a dry primer for empowerment, Ask For It makes its case by interweaving anecdotes of the authors’ experiences as an educator (Linda is a professor of economics at the Carnegie Mellon University), and on-the-ground researcher (Sara is a journalist, writing for popular and business publications), with a plethora of case studies, the bulk, but not all, with positive outcomes. Illuminating at times are hard data and studies offered to hasten and cushion women’s way.
For example, despite commonly held notions that younger women are more confident and assertive, “the gap in the frequency with which younger men and women negotiate is about the same as the gap between older men and women.” Also sobering is the fact that “married women who work full-time still perform 2/3 of the housework and child care…[and] enjoy far less leisure time than their male partners.”
With gentle allusions to the “men are from Mars/women from Venus” dichotomy, we take note of the fact that men are more likely to engage in risky behavior, notably economic. And that it pays off. Far-reaching are psychological studies indicating that men tend to see themselves as “surrounded by opportunities,” while women feel more fated, their lives predetermined, their options fewer.
Sara and Linda note how women, in our traditional selfless way, suffer from “the denial of personal disadvantage,” or the tendency to see discrimination against groups other than their own. Being able to identify and address situations of unfair treatment is an essential evaluation to make before negotiations. They further advise that women seeking to advance evaluate their current or target organization–“Is it committed to gender equity, with respect to pay and advancement?”–and to make other evaluative observations that will help with negotiations and the decision whether to stay or move on.
Amongst the nuts and bolts of this user friendly how-to is the rubric of BATNA, or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. BATNA is a plan B of positive, still empowering options to draw from at the negotiating table once an original demand has not been met. Women are cautioned to prepare a firm BATNA before entering into any discussion.
IT tips also add to the war chest: An impressive list of salary info sites and a listing of sites from which to obtain financial and other information for publicly and privately owned and government employers are valuable for setting targets and preparing a persuasive case. Still another useful table gives a checklist of bargaining chips including marketable skills, interpersonal skills, unique talents, unique experiences and education and training. And, an appendix laying out a Negotiation Prep Sheet is a handy way to take stock, set goals—long-term and short—and decide on advantageous negotiating tactics. It is downloadable from their website http://www.askforit.org/ which contains much of the same invaluable information found in the book.
Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever have done a service in encouraging women to demand in a diplomatic, yet striving way fulfillment in the work place and at home.