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Heather Meeker Green on Empowering Women Through the Art of Negotiation

Negotiation skills hold the potential to empower individuals in various aspects of life, including the workplace. While it is crucial for everyone to advocate for fair treatment, negotiation becomes even more important when considering the gender pay gap and the impact it has on women. Without negotiating in the workplace and other situations in daily life, women can fall behind. This disparity in willingness to negotiate, when perpetuated, can negatively affect women’s financial standing and overall professional growth. Heather Meeker Green is a negotiation expert with 30 years of experience in the world of negotiation, influence, conflict resolution, communication and emotional intelligence. In our Innovation Women Speak! Webinar Series, Meeker Green delved into the power of negotiation, highlighting how to hone your assertiveness in conversations and the importance of fighting for what you want.

How does negotiation affect women, specifically?

The ramifications of not negotiating extend beyond an individual’s immediate financial situation. When women settle for lower salaries or fail to negotiate benefits such as healthcare coverage, retirement plans or flexible work arrangements, they inadvertently perpetuate a cycle of disadvantage. Lower starting salaries can lead to stagnant wage growth, limited opportunities for raises and promotions and reduced retirement benefits.

Studies have shown that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries compared to their male counterparts. According to Meeker Green, three out of five women do not negotiate. Furthermore, when taken into the workplace, 70 percent of women do not negotiate for higher salaries.

Meeker Green explained that she herself was once part of this 70 percent.

“When I got my first job right out of college, I joined a negotiation firm,” she said. “The opportunity was wonderful, and I was so excited to start there. Having been in college and having no salary, having an offer letter with what seemed like a huge salary number was exciting. So, I said ‘Yes, thank you,’ and did not negotiate.”

For Meeker Green, this experience cemented her current passion for teaching the art of negotiation to women and femme-presenting people.

“Remembering this story, I’m now passionate about effective negotiation for empowerment,” she said. “I’ve been studying, researching and looking at how do we, as women, improve our negotiation for better outcomes. Hopefully, with negotiation as a tool, we can catch up and find some equity.”

What are negotiation challenges and opportunities for women?

While Meeker Green sees a lack of negotiation as preventing women from attaining equality in a general sense, she emphasizes that this is especially true when it comes to negotiating for a higher salary.

“One of the areas where reluctance to negotiate gets problematic is when we don’t negotiate salary,” she said. “We, as women, end up being paid less. This then starts a long-term challenge in which we are always running to catch up. There is that often-recited percentage that a woman makes 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. I’ve also seen 82 or 84. The key is we have not seen more than a couple of cents change in something like 20 years.”

Systemic barriers

This chain reaction makes negotiating even more important to achieving gender equity and bridging the pay gap. In addition to the pay gap, there are disparities in the systemic disadvantages different groups of women must face—for example, for women of color, it is even more difficult to achieve economic and social equality, as they must face racial inequities in addition to their existing issues.

 “Sadly, for women of color, the gap between a man’s and a woman’s wage is even worse. So how do we create a more even playing field? How do we convince governments and organizations to do something?”

One striking fact Meeker Green provided is that there are more companies with CEOs named John than there are companies with women CEOs. She emphasized a need to personally and collectively address this issue in order to create a more equal playing field. There are systemic barriers in companies, government policies, and perceptions that make negotiation difficult.

Personal barriers

Beyond systemic barriers, there are also internal or personal factors to the negotiation disparity between genders. Internally, women face personal barriers such as fear and a lack of confidence in negotiating.

“Apparently, men compare negotiation to going to a ballgame,” Meeker Green said. “It’s something they might look forward to, a competition of sorts. On the other hand, women compare negotiation to going to the dentist, which is something we typically dread and fear. Negotiation is not something that many women enjoy, and many look at it with a fear factor. Thus, another goal here is to improve our mindset and attitudes towards negotiation.”

What is negotiation?

Before Meeker Green delved too far into the specifics of how to negotiate, she first provided a clear idea of what negotiation is.

“We are negotiating all the time,” she said. “Negotiation is like dialogue, a free flow of meaning between two or more parties to try to reach an agreement. We do it in the morning with our families. We do it at the office, and we are doing it out in the world. It entails a communication process.”

For Meeker Green, negotiation is about communication and cooperation with the end goal of reaching a decision or agreement that makes everyone satisfied. For that to happen, Meeker Green believes that there are two things we need to do. If the subject matter—the object of the negotiation—is symbolized as a pie, we must do two things to conduct a successful negotiation.

Step 1: Expanding the pie

“First, you need to expand the pie,” she said. “If you start out with a pie and simply just cut it, that will leave people with less than is possible. For expanding the pie, you want to create more value. You want to look at what some of the possible joint gains are, you want to think about what’s most important to each of us, and how do we maximize that we’re getting all of that out of whatever agreement we’re coming to.”

Step 2: Cutting the pie

“Once you’ve done that expanding, you’ll want to be able to cut the pie in a way that feels fair. You want everybody to walk away feeling like they’ve gotten what they hope will meet their maximum interest.”

Meeker Green acknowledged that there may be no absolute way to cut the pie so that everyone is achieving their ideal goal.

“Sometimes cutting the pie means a little bit of concession. But the point of a negotiation is to be as cooperative as collaborative. To get good at negotiation, we need to hone our skills to make sure we walk away with a fair piece of the pie.”

Where can we improve and enhance negotiations?

Meeker Green pointed out that people often have misconceptions about how to negotiate. Many people believe that negotiation is only about speaking and having conversations with other people. But Meeker Green emphasized the intellectual aspect of negotiating, something that starts before either party utters a word.

“First and foremost, negotiation starts in our minds,” she said. “How we approach negotiations, what attitude, what perception, what perspective we take, is going to really make a difference. People who are good at negotiation have actually done research entering into a negotiation.”

In addition, Meeker Green explained that this thinking and preparation is not meant to concretely define an outcome before the negotiations occur. Rather, it is to consider all outcomes in order to be unflappable and achieve a win-win situation.

“If I go in with all kinds of assumptions or thoughts about what has to happen, or needs to happen, that does not work. Instead, I opt for being open-minded, asking questions, thinking about what they’re saying, and really listening and being curious about it. It enables me to have much more adaptability and flexibility.“

How do we prepare for negotiation?

As such, Meeker Green pinpointed preparation as one of the tenets of perfecting negotiation.

“Preparation is absolutely the key. Studies show those who are prepared will get more out of their negotiation than those who don’t. There are very smart people who can wing it. I used to be one of those folks who thought that I’d just be able to wing it, but that changed once I realized the power of having thought through, even for 10 minutes before negotiations, about certain key elements.”

Some other tips Meeker Green suggested include preparing good questions to ask. These questions should be open-ended and aimed at understanding what is important to both you and the other party. We also must make sure we listen. Practicing awareness and attentive listening will make a world of difference in a negotiation, according to Meeker Green. And finally, preparing our mindset to be collaborative is crucial. Research shows that entering negotiations and maintaining a collaborative, friendly nature will do more for many day-to-day negotiations than an aggressive approach will.

How do we improve our negotiation skills?

Finally, Meeker Green provided a simple recipe to improve your negotiation skills during live negotiations. It is a recipe of 3 G’s: get, give, and guard.

  1. Get: Ask, what am I trying to get out of this conversation? What information am I trying to obtain? It could be, depending on the stage of the negotiation, getting information or getting their opinion.
  2. Give: What am I trying to give them? What do you want to make sure you communicate in your message? What tone? What information? How do you make sure that you share your points information so that you make sure they’ve heard what you want them to hear?
  3. Guard: Consider, what do you want to protect? What do you not want to disclose?  For example, you may want to omit final numbers and instead offer ranges or more vague information rather than showing all your cards too early.

To gain more perspectives about leading in the workplace, check out the Lioness article on Business Parenting.

About the author

Jessica Zang

Jessica Zang is a student at the University of Chicago studying Economics and English Literature. At school, she writes columns for the newspaper, contributes to the fashion magazine and is part of the Women in Business organization. Outside of school, she loves reading, hiking, making her own lattes, exploring the city and any type of arts and crafts.

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