Negotiating the Workplace - Resources for Women

What comes to mind when you think of the word "negotiation?" For me, the word conjures images of haggling over the price of a car, or perhaps a long, drawn-out diplomatic agreement that has no real-world implications.

I recently attended a panel called "Disrupting the Patriarchy: Negotiation & Getting Things Done" held at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and since that discussion, I have a much more positive image of "negotiation."

The panelists discussed how important it is for women in particular to negotiate for their salary, for promotions, and for a seat at the table. Each panelist had a unique perspective--some of which were intensely personal--and they shared their experience with honesty and sincerity.

Cheryl Carleton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of Villanova University's Women's Professional Network, brought the insight of an economist to the discussion. When two parties are searching for common ground, "negotiation brings information," Dr. Carleton said. "Both sides benefit if done correctly; it moves everything forward. If you learn how to negotiate, particularly in the marketplace, you'll be perceived as more professional."

Tam Williams has served in leadership roles in many corporations, and brought her perspective as a former executive in human resources, education, and communication. Ms. Williams is currently an entrepreneur and speaks frequently on small business development. "Very often we, as women, second-guess ourselves when it comes to saying what we are worth in the workplace."

She talked candidly about an experience in which she tried to negotiate a pay increase after being asked to take on significant additional responsibilities. "I was a little nervous, even with all my years of experience. It is so much easier to negotiate on behalf of someone else, but when it comes to us, we think, 'should I really be asking for this?'"

Philadelphia entrepreneur and activist Judy Wicks, founder of White Dog Cafe, shared her experience starting a small business while raising two children. "I believe the purpose of business is to serve--our mission was to serve our customers, our employees, our community, and nature," Ms. Wicks said. She thought of money as a tool to accomplish that mission. "When I opened my closet door in the morning, I had a sign that said, 'Good Morning Beautiful Business,' a reminder to me of just how beautiful business is when we put our creativity, energy and talents into our work," she recalled. "My goal wasn't to maximize profits, it was to maximize relationships."

The panel welcomed comments from attendees, and members of the audience were obviously engaged with the discussion, sharing thoughtful insights from their own experience. One woman remarked that as a Baby Boomer, she didn't expect equality when she entered the workforce; now that she has a granddaughter, however, she is working to make sure the next generation receives fair compensation and equal opportunities.

Another audience member asked about how women can receive acknowledgement for "soft skills" like communication, collaborative teamwork, and conflict resolution. Tam Williams remarked that it was unfortunate that some believe that "the only way to get ahead is to be hardened and not think about the person" you are working with. "I'm always saying, the soft skills are really the hard skills."

Turning to the audience, Dr. Carleton asked why women have often been hesitant to negotiate. Some responded that women are socialized to care for others before themselves, that over time women have come to expect to receive less than men, and that women are concerned that negotiating may cause coworkers to dislike them.

She also praised the nonprofit organization AAUW (American Association of University Women) for sponsoring salary negotiation workshops around the country. If you are interested in finding a workshop near you, visit  Dr. Carleton herself is leading a workshop on Tuesday, April 4 at the Free Library of Philadelphia; details are available at

The importance of negotiating for what we need--whether it's equal pay, the opportunity to engage in decision-making, or simply to be heard--is one of the most critical issues facing women in the workplace today. I'm deeply grateful to these amazing professionals for their insight, expertise, and leadership.