Women Encouraged to Drop Assumptions, Negotiate Differently

Carin Smith, DVM, asks audiences around the world for examples of negotiation. And, depending on gender, the answer varies significantly. “People in general need to realize that negotiation is not a contest or a time to ‘try to be nice,’” Smith said. “It is a time to discuss your needs and the employer’s needs, and see if you can find a good fit.”

After hosting several national and international seminars on the topic, Smith believes that women may negotiate and ask for what they want, but “they don’t expect as much as men do, and they make assumptions about what is negotiable,” she explained. “They don’t ask for some things because they assume they cannot have them.”

Those assumptions foster workplace discrimination and affect personal lifestyle issues. Susan Rohrer, DVM, who attended Smith’s seminar at the Southwest Veterinary Conference, left feeling more empowered to articulate some of the things she wants at home and in her new practice in Nebraska. She referenced a situation with a contractor who she assumed would arrive on the job when he said he would, and didn’t. “I didn’t negotiate well,” Rohrer said. However, as she moves forward, Rohrer plans to be more proactive. “I’m going to stand up for myself,” Rohrer said. “The first step is to state what I want.”

Looking into the future, Smith sees a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel with regard to gender issues and negotiation. “I think it is much less of a problem with the upcoming generation,” she said, but, “that does not mean we should stop talking about it. That is a common historical mistake.”

Negotiation, she added, “should be a discussion, a collaboration, which requires each party to state his or her needs.”  During a recent seminar at the Southwest Veterinary Conference, Smith advised audience members to ask themselves whose side they were on when they were negotiating salaries, job responsibilities, and chores at home. “Trust the other person’s [ability] to assert their needs. Do not limit their choices.”

Studies, which include the Harvard Negotiation Project, support many of Smith’s assertions, and many nodding heads in the audience confirmed the fact that frequently women do not ask for what they need or want.

In the book, “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” which Smith recommends, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever confirm that women, “don’t ask for raises and promotions and better job opportunities. They don’t ask for recognition for the good work they do… In other words, women are much less likely than men to use negotiation to get what they want.”