The author learns why women should not hold back while negotiating their salaries, at a recently concluded workshop

A wise man once said to me, “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” But, when I tried to ask, I fumbled. Was I too demanding? Had I earned the right to ask for it? Was I being selfish, aggressive, tactless, rude, or presumptuous? I still fumble every now and then. Turns out, I’m not the only one.

“Did you know, a research study finds that while 57 per cent men who graduated from a US based college negotiated their first salaries, only seven per cent women did so?” Swathy Rohit, Chairperson, FICCI, Coimbatore chapter, asks at a workshop on “Negotiating in Challenging Situations”. Quoting from a book by Sheryl Sandburg, she continues, “I found these figures amazing. I also realized that when it came to my first salary, even I hadn’t bothered to negotiate. I was just happy with what I’d got.” The other co-organisers of this workshop are Vinoo Aram of Shanti Ashram and Shobana Madhavan, Associate Professor, Amrita School of Business. Shobana reveals that women across the world are afraid to ask. “Women are actually terrific negotiators. But only when it comes to asking for others,” she smiles. This is due to how girls and boys are conditioned. Girls are taught to look after the needs of others before themselves, while it is considered acceptable for boys to be self-serving. This conditioning spills into every aspect of a woman’s life. In the workplace, this not only means economic costs to women themselves, but organisations suffer too. As Vinoo points out, “India has the lowest levels of women moving from junior to senior level positions in South Asia.”

Since men are perfectly at ease asking for opportunities, their rise is substantially higher than women. This, despite the fact that in many cases, a woman may be better qualified than a man for the job. She adds, “This condition of women not asking is across the board, both in rural and urban scenarios. For the sake of propriety, there are so many gray areas that women don’t consider asking about – for instance, property or taxes. And they fall into trouble.”

In a presentation, Shobana Madhavan suggests how one can develop negotiating skills. The participants are taken on a journey of the various stages of a typical business-related negotiation. There are interactive role-play exercises. Emphasis is given to issues of power and gender, and it is the perfect blend of a wealth of facts and examples from real world experiences.

Shobana shows how negotiation is a creative process, shaped by personalities and psychology. Negotiation is a dance, and can be both exciting and rewarding.

The participants come from various backgrounds, from teachers and real estate professionals to staff in hospitals and manufacturing industries. Chandraprabha, who is into real estate, feels that “There is a difference between men and women when it comes to negotiation. I’ve learnt that people are more forthcoming in business deals when I take a male colleague along. He may not know the facts, but even his silence works better for me!” But, Uma Suresh, Senior Manager at a textile-based company says, “I grew up as an extrovert. I don’t see myself as any different to a man.” Latha Iswar, a teacher, feels, “It is about individual attitude and how you are brought up. This workshop has helped me understand how to be more tactful with colleagues. It has given me tips on how to negotiate with my students.” For others, like Suganthi Thiyagarajan, manager at a travel agency, “Being a woman presents you with limitations when it comes to asking or negotiating”.

From a documentary film called Ask for it that is screened at the workshop, we learn that women tend to be more collaborative as negotiators, while men are more competitive. Research over the last 20 years has shown that collaborative negotiation is far more effective. So if women were to only ask, not only would they get, it would also be a far more beneficial world.