Many years ago when I was a young lawyer, I was lucky enough to be an associate at the same law firm as the late Maynard Jackson, former mayor of the City of Atlanta, Georgia. Maynard was the consummate politician, salesman and negotiator and an all-around good person. Walking down the streets of Atlanta with him meant stopping every few feet to talk to one of his many admirers. Maynard always made eye contact and greeted EVERYONE who passed, regardless of who they were and how the “looked,” and a short walk a few blocks to a downtown meeting was sure to take an extra 20 minutes or so. He was very generous with his knowledge, and he often shared insight and wisdom with me about how to get and keep clients. I will never forget that in one of our earlier conversations about getting business, Maynard told me that his number one piece of advice was that you have to “ask for the business.” He told me that just because people know you and they know that you are a lawyer at a good firm (so you must have it going on!) does not mean that they will hire you. I have to admit that this very simple approach hadn’t really occurred to me and, at the time, the thought of “asking for the business” was quite profound. I was of the mind that it didn’t need to be said that I wanted the business because that’s obvious. I learned that whether or not it was obvious, it wasn’t enough and you must ask or risk having the business go to someone who did ask.
Likewise, you might think that it’s obvious that you want that raise or promotion or plum project. Your partner should know that you welcome help with the chores around the house. After all, you’re working your butt off, right?! Don’t be surprised when that promotion, raise, project or needed help doesn’t just magically appear. You have to ask for it! This is the essence of Negotiation Skills 101. Really, when I think about it, it’s also Life Skills 101. You have to know what you want, speak it, and put it out there in order to make it a reality. It’s this setting of the intention that makes some people wildly successful, while others languish and never get what they want or even deserve in order to live the life they want to live.
In the case of women lawyers and other women professionals, we often avoid asking for what we want or deserve as is demonstrated in research that shows that men initiate negotiations about four times more often than women. As a result, women may not get the deserved promotion to equity partner or they may not land the big client or account. There is much debate about the differences between men and women and their outlook and approach to Life. Some common themes in the research around the issues of women’s hesitance to negotiate suggest that it could be fear, lack of confidence, insecurity, a desire to be “liked” by others or few visible mentors or examples of women negotiators using their own personal style. What is clear and has been documented is that women suffer when they don’t ask for and negotiate what they want and deserve. In their book, Women Don’t Ask – Negotiation and the Gender Divide, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever point out that, in one study conducted at Carnegie Mellon only 7% of women MBA graduates attempted to negotiate their first starting salaries, while 57% of men attempted to negotiate their starting salaries. According to this research, it’s estimated that by not negotiating that first salary, the non-negotiating woman stands to lose more than $500,000 in salary over the course of her career. This is a tangible, quantifiable loss. But what about the not so visible, intangible losses?
Another example of women giving up or dropping out of certain segments of some professions is seen when comparing women equity partners to women law school graduates. According to the National Association for Law Placement, women make up almost half of law school graduating classes, yet they are only 17.1% of the equity partners in the major US law firms. This disconnect between the percentage of women making up graduating classes in law school and the number of women equity partners is partially due to the fact that many women remove themselves from consideration before they make it to equity partner status. When women give up or opt out of some professions or segments of certain industries everyone loses the impact of their contribution. It’s hard to quantify what impact these women might have had after they are gone or if they never show up.
Interestingly enough, research shows that when negotiating on behalf of others, women are more successful and willing negotiators. Perhaps they are more confident when asking for a “good cause” on behalf of someone else. I would posit that negotiating the salary, promotion, title, assignment, account, relationship or help that you need is also a “good cause!” Remember, in order for the Magic Genie to grant your wish, you must share with her what that wish is…Ask for what you want and you may just get it!