Negotiating Skills for Women and Comfort with Conflict

Vancouver    An article the other day on “Narrowing the gender wage gap” by Erin Anderssen in the Globe and Mail caught my eye not because of the title but because the subtitle seemed to perhaps make this piece different than the usual “oh, my!” because it went to the heart of an important issue:  “Young women should be better trained in salary negotiation and income expectations if pay equity is to be achieved, experts say.”

Partially why it caught my eye is that my daughter, Dine’, works with me at Local 100, and I’ve heard her make a similar observation about some women in her cohort who have trouble expressing their issues and interests because they are uncomfortable with the possibility of any conflict.  Negotiations, give-and-take, bartering around self-interest are all tense expressions of potential conflict with other people, including peers and employers.

The article quoted economist Nicole Fortin for the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver suggesting that a “negotiation divide” is part of the unmitigated differential that has not been addressed even as women have come closer to men in wages (85 cents to $1 in Canada for example, all factors being equal).  Fortin speculates that “young women start with a lower ‘reservation wage’ – the amount at which they feel a job is no longer worth the time….”  Fortin argues that increasing “stronger negotiation skills” could narrow the wage gap by another 5%, which is significant.

Borrowing from my daughter though, this is more important than merely wage equity, even as critical as that is in achieving over all gender equality.  A general willingness to put up with less in all areas of expectations coupled with a reticence about conflict and a skill deficit in bargaining ability and confidence, gives men in every area of life, work, and social relationships a critical edge that would doubtlessly be used whenever opportunity arises.  Visiting other countries and cultures, where women are still stuck in more traditionally submissive roles, is another unwelcome reminder of the work needed in this area.

I have been fortunate to live my life, work, and family among strong women, but I also know that in these kinds of negotiations, men will not surrender advantage, but will have to be forced to concede, which puts a greater weight on us, once we recognize the truth of these comments whether in the paper or across the cubicle to my daughter’s office, to do something extra in training and development to make sure that women can hold way more than simply their own at the table.

Conflict sucks, but until that utopian time is reached where we have achieved perfect harmony and equity prevails, we better start working overtime to make sure women have greater skills to assure that they get a fair shake, and that even if as men we can’t concede without a struggle, at least we start having their back when they are in the fight.  I think this is something organizing methodology is particularly well suited to teach, so we should jump to make this contribution!

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