Aaaargh! And a big, fat facepalm for good measure.
Do you know that feeling of total failure after a conversation? When you wanted to talk to the boss about your professional development and with a few words, he took away your courage? When the discussion with your partner about the distribution of housework ends with everything staying the same? Or when in the task distribution for a project, as always, the loudest work colleagues get the best jobs?
Negotiating is difficult.
Especially if we want to ask for something. “Unfortunately, you don’t learn something like this at school,” says Wies Bratby. Born in the Netherlands, she lives in the canton of Zurich with her husband and two daughters. Previously, she worked as a lawyer and HR director, worked worldwide and has a lot of experience in negotiation. She shares this knowledge with women worldwide through her company Women In Negotiation and in a Facebook group.
Only for women.
Because: “Teaching women to negotiate better is my ‘raison d’etre’ – the reason why I feel I have been put on this earth.”
Wies, why did you specialize in this topic?
I am obsessed with negotiation! My two daughters have recently lined up and measured all my books on this topic at home … it’s 3.5 meters. I have been obsessed with it since I read ‘Getting To Yes’, the standard work on negotiation, at 18. I went to law school because of it.
And I am a feminist, and believe men and women are equal and should be treated equally.
These two things come together in Women In Negotiation.
Negotiating your wage? There is a lack of courage.
Where does the obsession come from?
As said, I am a feminist. And we are still a long way from equality in wages. And those 20% or so that we’re making less than men adds up to millions in lost wages over the course of our lifetime.
One reason why we earn less is that women don’t negotiate as well as men do in the workplace. Or they don’t negotiate at all. Only 7 percent of women negotiate their wages. 7 percent! That drives me crazy! 93 percent simply accept what they are offered. And as I know as an HR professional: The initial bid is always much lower than possible.
Are we really that bad at negotiating?
When I was HR director, I did trainings with employees, women and men all over the world. Whether in Sweden or Germany, in the US or in Vietnam: certain things were the same. Always and everywhere the women gathered and said: ‘I can’t do that. I have not enough courage. ‘
Women can negotiate very well when it comes to parent talk at school. Then Mommybear comes out and fights. Or if they should defend their girlfriends. But to stand up for yourself? That’s hard for us.
And what happened after training sessions with the women?
After the two-hour session everyone was totally excited and motivated. However, when I asked them a few days or weeks later, much of what had been learned hasn’t been used.
We need more self-confidence!
A one-time training doesn’t lead to fundamental changes.
It’s inside of us, this restraint, the fear of not being accepted, if we demand harshly, say no. The fear of being considered bitchy.
So it needs more training.
Yes. That’s why I do an eight week online group coaching with Women in Negotiation. There is of course theory, but also a lot of exercises, homework, challenges, role plays. Together they build the confidence you need to truly go out and negotiate and get results.
Do the women interact with each other?
Sure, even if they are scattered all over the world. I love it when the participants empower and motivate each other. A company boss can benefit from a newcomer, not only vice versa. And, most importantly, everyone sees that they are not alone with their doubts and problems. Because each has such struggles, no matter where she lives, what job she makes or which generation she belongs to.
Others feel exactly the same.
What are typical tasks that you set?
We start simple: ask for something small every day for a week. So you learn to ask for things, to express your needs. With the regularity something is changing inside of you.
Small steps forward?
Absolutely. It is illusory that you do not negotiate for years and then suddenly go to the boss and demand 10 percent demand more money and get it. You need skills and practice for that.
First of all, you have to deal intensively with yourself, be realistic and honest. Must ask yourself fairly deep questions. Where am I? What do I want? How do I add value? What does the company need? And so on.
The most important thing is self-confidence. Theory lays the basis for it. Training, role-playing games and exchange then help to strengthen this confidence. Three important steps: recognize your value. Own it. Communicate it.
More money = more respect. Sad but true.
Are you primarily focused about what women earn?
I talk about money all the time in my work, but personally it’s not that important to me. But in society salary is equated with value and with respect, which are important things. And increasing your salary has the biggest impact on women’s lives – that’s why I focus on it. If you extrapolate the difference in salary between men and women in one year, to the losses over a lifetime, you feel sick. Of course, the skills that I teach can be transferred to other types of negotiations in your life as well.
Negotiation skills also help in relationships.
Absolutely. For example, I had a client who wanted to go back to work after maternity leave. My training with her was actually aimed at making her increase her salary at work. What brought it instead is that she sat down with her husband and demanded that they make plans for the period after her return. Having this important issue solved has helped her enormously.
Because, we all know that: The mental workload of women is enormous.
There was this study, where the stress level of men and women at 5 p.m. was measured, so at the end of a workday. The stress level of the fathers dropped: they had finished their working day. The mothers’ stress levels shot up. Of course, this was because they were getting ready for their second shift.
If you negotiate better, this creates a better compatibility of work and life?
I am convinced of that. At first, the men of my clients are not always so enthusiastic when suddenly new rules are being negotiated at home, haha! But ultimately they all come around to the idea that better communication leads to less passive-aggressive gripe, frustration and to a more peaceful coexistence.
Can you give us some tips?
One of my learnings: Stop asking indirect questions! ‘Can you please do the shopping?’ rather than ‘The shopping still needs to be done.’ Say what you want. But please remember: if you do ask your partner for help with the housework and childcare, you must remember that he does it his way. Let go. Either you set the end goal and he decides on means himself, or you set means but then need to let go of the results. You can’t do both.
A book tip for those who are reluctant to let go: Drop the ball by Tiffany Dufu.
Back to work. Many mothers feel that their working environment does not take them seriously anymore once they have kids – they are now mothers as their main job. Would you recommend to not mention your kids in workplace?
I would not be able to do that. But constantly talking only about the kids wouldn’t be a good idea either.
And if you apply to a new job?
When I came to Switzerland, I was totally surprised that people here write their family relationships on their CV. What?! Everywhere else in the world the asking about marital status or about children is illegal. Here in Switzerland, people volunteer that information! My advice, is If you talk about it, you should emphasize the Mom-skills you have gained after having kids full of self-confidence.