Jessica Bennett, an award-winning journalist who writes for the New York Times, once interviewed me for a job. (I didn’t get it.) Fast forward a few years, and I was excited to get an opportunity to ask her a few questions.
We talked about what women are up against at the negotiating table. She dedicated an entire chapter in her book, Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace dedicated to it. It’s called ‘F you, pay me.’
Alexandra Dickinson: Women face different challenges than men when they negotiate for themselves. Do those challenges change when a woman is negotiating with a man versus another woman? If so, how?
Jessica Bennett: I think what we've learned is that a lot of the same biases men have about women — such as viewing them as pushy when they negotiate for a raise — women have too. So a lot of this is about all of us recognizing our own biases, and asking sometimes really obvious questions to ourselves like, "Would I think she was being 'too aggressive' or asking for 'too much' if she were a man?"
Dickinson: What do you think of the research that says women are seen as aggressive in a negotiation unless they act in feminine ways, for example, by smiling when they ask for something?
Bennett: It drives me insane. We shouldn’t have to smile in order to get what we deserve. I myself would grin and bear it for my fellow women, knowing that once I get there, I’m making the commitment to to bring other women up. But if someone isn’t into it, I respect that.
Dickinson: So many of the stats we hear — for example, the widely repeated wage gap of 79 cents on the dollar — refer to white women compared with white men. What can white women in a position of relative privilege do, or not do, to help make change for women of color?
Bennett: What we can do is continue to highlight not just that 79 cents figure but the corresponding figures — 64 cents for black women, 54 cents for Latina women. Many people still don't know these stats, and they are shocked when they hear them. More broadly what white women (and men) can do is speak up, use their privilege to highlight issues of race and class and gender identity. And if they're in a position of power they can literally insist on hiring, mentoring, and promoting women of color. They can check company figures to make sure there is not a gender wage gap and if there is, correct for it. This stuff is not rocket science, but sometimes it needs to be said: Promote women. Mentor women. Do not book a man for a panel, or a keynote, a meeting, or any other kind of professional anything until you’ve booked an equal number of women — and not just white women, but a representative number of women of color. And don't just sit around talking about diversity — recruit for it, set targets for it.
Dickinson: Parental leave still seems to be the third rail of workplace issues. What advice would you give to a woman who wants to ask for more than the bare minimum of maternity leave but is concerned it will cause career trouble for her down the road?
Bennett: So I will caveat this by saying that until women and men demand parental leave, and demand it publicly, women who ask for it will continue to be penalized and we'll continue to think about this issue as a "women's issue." So if you're in a position of power, male or female, create a companywide policy, talk openly about workplace flexibility, and if your company already offers time off, take it. And talk about how you're taking it — it sets a standard. If you're at a company that's openly hostile toward working moms, you can try to navigate the issue without being penalized: Emphasize that you’re still committed to the job. In one study of married parents applying for an engineering job, those who included a single sentence about being willing to make sacrifices for work were more likely to be hired. Often people assume that new parents suddenly don't care about the job — and if you do, say that.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.