The transition to motherhood, whether it’s for the first time, or the fourth, is replete with challenges, emotional swings, and… negotiations! With increased demands on your time, and the very real physical, emotional, and hormonal changes, it’s more important than ever to tune into the self and get crystal clear on your needs and priorities.
Though we think of negotiation as an undesirable, once in a blue moon task, negotiation is far more prevalent in our lives. Let’s broaden the frame of negotiation to refer to any conversation where we care about the outcome of that conversation. Through this lens, we negotiate throughout our days every day – with our children, our partners, our friends, our colleagues, our local dry cleaners.
Though many women carry a lot of baggage around negotiating, with this reframe we can begin to see it as a powerful and empowering tool to steer our lives to places we want to go.
As a general rule, according to research and findings, the vast majority of women dislike negotiation, and therefore don’t do it as frequently as men. While nothing can make the transition simple, empowering yourself with these 9 negotiation tips can certainly help make it more manageable.
1. Know that negotiation begins with the self.
Before you can negotiate with a counter-party, be it your spouse, your partner, or your boss, you need to get clear on your own needs. Dr. Alexandra Sacks’ work on Matrescence places the attention back on mom, and prioritizes the health and wellbeing of the mother, outside of her incubating, growing, or servicing baby or the rest of her family. Look in the mirror, journal, take a few minutes, as many as you can spare, to ask yourself the hard questions of what you need. Is it a salary increase? Greater remote work flexibility? More support with childcare? For your spouse to handle dinner a few nights a week? By honing in on your priorities, you will be creating a blueprint or target to aim for.
2. Negotiation happens all the time (including in the home).
As Eve Rodsky asserts in Fair Play, her watershed book that makes the case for a redistribution of labor at home, society values or views men’s time like precious diamonds, whereas it sees women’s time as infinite sand. But domestic labor is labor. According to a study conducted by the New York Times, the value of women’s unpaid domestic labor in the United States per anum is around 1.5 Trillion dollars. New mothers know better than anyone that time is our most valuable asset or resource. And no one, not even your supportive partners, will guard your time for you. Calculate the amount of time you are spending on family related tasks – whether that is breastfeeding your baby, or buying groceries, and see where you might be able to redistribute those tasks to create more equity in the home.
3. Don’t assume an adversary – assume a partner.
When asking your spouse to ‘lean in’ with some of the household labor, approach it from a place of expectation that they actually want to help. We often avoid negotiation because we expect that the counter-party is an adversary – namely that they do not want to say yes, or want different things than we want. In other words we expect a fight and since many of us dislike confrontation, we avoid it, which keeps us stuck in this loop of never getting better at it. By assuming that our spouse (and the same goes for any negotiation counter-party) is not our adversary, but our negotiation partner, we can approach the conversation in a more open, less attacking, accusatory, or defensive way – which will likely elicit a more positive and receptive response from said partner.
4. Reframe and reclaim the “Mother” title: know that your skillset as a parent is an asset, not a deficit.
Unfortunately, the Motherhood Tax is all too real. Women get penalized for having kids, whereas fathers get rewarded with the Fatherhood Bonus (in which men get promoted or perceived as more likable and trustworthy upon becoming fathers). We need to flip the script and wear motherhood as a badge of honor and experience – a 24/7 boot camp training ground in growing yourself as a human, your management style, your conflict resolution, and leadership and negotiation skills etc.
5. Think Beyond Salary to Other Currencies and Culture.
For those mothers starting a new job or renegotiating a current position, by asking yourself the critical questions around your priorities, you can determine what you need out of said job, not just what the job needs out of you – and this list should be broad. Many of us make the error of seeing salary and stopping there but in reality, there are many other types of currencies that a job can hold.
Determine what you need out of said job, not just what the job needs out of you.
When you are in the midst of a negotiation, remember that this is not only an opportunity for the company to interview you but also for you to interview them. Ask about the parental leave policies, PTO, WFH flexibility, and other benefits that you may be interested in. Some companies today have gone so far as to offer tutoring credits for your children, after school hours daycare, 4-day work weeks, and many other culture-changing perks or benefits that might not even be on your radar, so think critically before you head into an interview.
For those staying at their current job who feel that the current construct or structure is not working well, schedule a meeting with HR or your boss at a good time to discuss your asks. You should research to see whether there is a precedent for your ask in the company, or in the industry, demonstrate your recommitment to your position, the reason you feel even more committed to the job, thereby allaying the natural concerns your employer has in this juncture, and then present your issues in a way that invites your employer to solution find with you. If you can approach a solution together, and have an ally’s buy-in, you will be in a much better position to push it through.
6. Own your value.
When making your case, shake off the insecurity and imposter syndrome and write a value statement. What value do you bring to a team? How does your new motherhood status bring even more value to the group? If you manage a team of your own, perhaps it has made you more aware of unnecessary or extraneous weekly zooms that just suck up people’s time. Perhaps it has sensitized you to other colleagues’ external stressors and demands that you now will have more empathy for. Ask yourself the following questions: What are your unique skill sets? What makes you good at what you do? How do people feel around you? What makes you a strong leader? Think about yourself through the eyes of your best friend, mother, or sister, and then go write the piece. Build yourself up. You deserve it.
Then come in prepared. Too often we give our power away by not coming in prepared with the information or facts we need. To this end, we encourage everyone to keep a “WIN Journal” where you can track your professional accomplishments and celebrate the small wins, not just the major ones. It will also help you recall, recount, and track the vast number of projects you managed and accomplished at work, which can be hard to pull up and recall over time otherwise.
7. Identify your non-negotiables or boundaries.
As a mother, you know deep in your veins that there are some things you will not concede on, or miss out on as a parent. Sometimes work will come first, no doubt, but other times it won’t and you need to know what those times are. By getting clear on your non-negotiables and your boundaries, you can ensure that you are keeping those front and center as it’s very easy to get derailed in a conversation where you feel the stakes are high. For instance, you might be more flexible on salary but you need to negotiate your schedule to fit your needs and carve out the daily dinner and bedtime routine with your children that is an integral part of your family life or make sure you are able to get work from home Fridays etc.
8. Create win-win solutions.
Put your supersized empathy and active listening skills to work. Think about what a win might look like to your company/boss/hiring manager, by doing your research, asking probing questions, and putting yourself in their shoes to frame your solution or approach a problem together. We usually don’t spend enough time actually thinking about what our counter-party wants because we are so nervous about their getting the better of us. By doing the opposite, and thinking about their needs, you can disarm their resistance to giving you what you need. It seems counterintuitive but can actually be quite effective.
The same way in which you will get more cooperation out of your children when you actually try and understand their resistance to something, validate their needs, and try and come up with a solution that both meets your needs and theirs, as opposed to just enforcing your authority, or getting into a power struggle, this can work magic in other negotiations as well.
9. Be kind to yourself.
Finally, if anyone deserves a break it’s new moms. If you feel like you didn’t put your best foot forward with a client or an interview, or you feel guilty that you snapped at your partner, or were short tempered with your toddler, cut yourself some slack. You can say to yourself, and then to your child, partner, boss etc. that was not my best moment, I’m sorry. So often we think owning a mistake makes us look weak but in fact, it’s the opposite. We gain credibility, and other people’s empathy through acknowledging our mistakes, and also our vulnerabilities. And even better, we invite that same behavior from others by modeling it ourselves.
Remember (not that you could forget), incubating, birthing, and then raising a new life is hard!!! Motherhood is the hardest job you can have with the least amount of training so be kind to yourself. Know that you are doing your best and if you feel like you’re falling short, try and adopt a growth mindset around developing your skills, and also remember you are probably already doing way more than you give yourself credit for.
Daniella is executive director and CEO of WIN, Women In Negotiation, a premier female-focused negotiation skills development organization. Through professional on-site training, personal coaching, workshops, and an annual Global Summit, WIN empowers women to discover new ways to harness their unique strengths, elevate their skills, leverage their value, and better advocate for both themselves and their companies.