In Negotiations, The Pen Can be Mightier than the Mouth

A long time ago I heard that women are not so good at negotiating. You can’t blame this all on women, since part of the problem is how our attempts to negotiate are received.

Recently I was told that young women are “getting *$%^ed” because they are told that the staring salaries at various companies are fixed, which they interpret as “no need to negotiate.” This is far from the truth, because there are moving costs, bonuses, and other possible perks that can be negotiated. If you look at the data and compare what male and female students are getting when they graduate it is not equitable. We need to do a better job mentoring our students how to negotiate.

My own experience has led me to conclude that when I negotiate with my pen (through email) I can be far more successful than when I negotiate with my mouth (by talking either in person or on the phone/telecon). Here’s what I have learned in my own negotiations:

  1. If the promise isn’t in writing it does not exist. Department chairs, Deans and other administrators change (sometimes unexpectedly) and the next person is only obligated to honor things that are in writing (and signed). When you are hired, make sure your needs regarding space, travel, equipment, supplies, student funding, etc. are met as much as possible.  It should be in writing how that is going to happen and who is going to pay. Not just that the institution will take care of it, but what funding source at the institution will pick up the bill.
  2. Negotiate with your pen (keyboard), not your mouth. Unfortunately, when women negotiate with their mouths, people generally respond based on how they look, the tone of their voice and how things went with the last woman who negotiated. When you make your request politely but firmly in writing, you are just stating your needs. The person reading the request can “hear” it in their own inner reading voice. They can respond to the content and take the time to consider what should be a yes and what must be a no.
  3. The strongest position is one you can walk away from. That’s why having more than one job offer is an advantage. This goes for consulting gigs too. Recently I negotiated a consulting job where I asked for an amount. I was offered about ¼ of the amount. I provided evidence that if I took another job I would be paid ½ again as much as the original amount I asked. I wrote politely that I would prefer to work for them, but only if they could meet my salary and other requests. They met the requests.
  4. Concisely explain what you will do with the resources you require. If an institution is providing something (money, space, small class enrollment), they deserve to know what the institution will receive in return.   This can be phrased as a benefit to the institution, not a defense of your request (even if the request for information seems like a challenge to your request). In my consulting contract negotiation, after the salary was settled, the other party asked for several new things (I’m assuming to get what they thought was their money’s worth). I made a tiny compromise, but basically (in writing) said that what they were requesting would not work and provided the educational reasons. They met my request. Everything went well and I have been asked to perform a second job, but doing much more for the same money. I have made it clear that I will be happy to continue the work, but only under the same conditions as the first job. I also joked (with my mouth) that each time they ask for more, I’ll double my salary request. I can do this because of condition #3 (see above).  We’ll see how it goes…
  5. Be friendly, professional and positive as well as cool and tough. Negotiations are a test of both parties. How will you and the institution behave when things are tough and awkward? Discussions about money often make people act in unusual ways. You can show that you are cool, tough, positive and professional under pressure. Then the institution (and individuals) can expect you to be that way on the job.   Your institution deserves that kind of behavior, especially if you are provided the resources you need to do your job well.
  6. Be reasonable in your expectations. Before the negotiation begins, do your homework (with your mouth). As much as possible, find out from several people what has been done in the past, and what might be possible at that point in time. If you ask for something far outside the normal realm, it can be difficult for administrators to honor your request. If you really need something unusual, then possibly ask (with your mouth since you might not want this in writing) if it would be possible to trade it for something else that others normally receive. Once you have done your homework, you are ready to begin real negotiations.


Academic Lab Space

Lab space. This seems to be one of the most contentious topics out there in academia these days, both among current faculty and in negotiations for faculty positions. It’s also described as one of the hidden sources of inequality in academia, with women potentially having less square footage than men. Space is the issue that led MIT to perform a study on the status of women faculty in science, after a female tenured faculty member started questioning the amount of space she was allocated relative to her tenured and untenured male colleagues. It’s also one of the hardest to evaluate, since the need for physical space varies tremendously among and within disciplines, depending on the type of research.

A few weeks, we asked readers to respond to some questions about lab space and many of you did. We were less focused on square footage and more interested in the process of obtaining space and whether respondents were relatively happy with their allocated lab space. Continue reading

Academic Space

Space. This seems to be one of the most contentious topics out there in academia these days.  OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, since space appears to be one of those issues that has been a thorn in the side of academics (and probably non-academics as well) since time immemorial. Many (all?) of us here at TSW have our own space challenges and we also hear about space issues from friends and colleagues year after year. In an attempt to move from anecdotes to anecdata (as much as we can with an informal poll disseminated via blog and twitter), we are interested in hearing your stories about lab space- the good, the bad, the ugly. So please fill out the following poll within the next two weeks (by Friday, February 20th) and we’ll report back in a future blog post.

Guest Post: Academic Negotiations

In my first month in graduate school the new faculty in our department did a “How to get a job” seminar. They talked about their experiences, and one thing really stuck with me. Two of the new faculty said that many things were negotiable at our R1 university but salary was not. Our university took the average of three faculty salary surveys, added 10%, and that was the starting salary. I thought that was a cool system to keep things fair and equal between the new faculty. In fact, I thought it was so cool that I mentioned it to my advisor (who was not junior, and had been at two different institutions). He got a funny look on his face and just shook his head. “No, that’s not true.”

No, it wasn’t true. It was what the administration told new hires to keep them from asking for higher salaries. Some were more savvy, pushed back and made more money than the others who took the administration at face value. Those initial differences added up over time through raises which were all calculated as a percentage of starting salary. My advisor stressed one thing to me: Do everything you can to raise that number. Continue reading

Guest Post: Braggy Sister Bear

At the risk of triggering your gag reflex at the kind of domestic picture this presents, I will tell you that my spouse and I love reading out loud to each other. We are currently partway through “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, one of my childhood favorites. Last night we read Chapter 7, where youngest sister Amy is disgraced over an incident at school regarding pickled limes, an inexplicable tween trend of the 19th century. The chapter concludes, as many do, with a moral message delivered by the girls’ mother Marmee:

“You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.”

When my spouse read this in his “Marmee voice,” I snorted. For although it is true that Amy is a bit of a conceited twit, I strongly object to the core messages in this little speech: don’t show off, even if that means no-one notices how awesome you are. It’s better to be overlooked than to be conceited.

Continue reading

Applying for jobs when you have a job

With a combination of hard work, excellent mentors, and some luck, I landed two tenure-track offers during my postdoc, negotiated for almost everything I needed to make me happy as I started my research program, and began my appointment as a faculty member four years ago. Still, I apply for jobs every year, which is mentally frustrating and takes up a lot of time. Why am I still in this boat?  The two-body problem, which sciwo has already eloquently discussed on this blog and which many contributed ideas to. This year, my husband and I ended up with a series of interviews and negotiated a better situation for ourselves, although we have yet to sign on the dotted line anywhere. In this post, I’d like to share some of my experiences with how to manage applying for a job when you have a job.

How did we end up with our current approximate solution for the two-body problem? Continue reading

The offer refused

Recently, I applied for my first academic job at a small state university.  The description for the tenure-track position fit my skill set perfectly.  I have to admit, though, the thought of working for a small university close in proximity and within the same state system as my previous (and very negative, see for example here, here, and here) pre-doc teaching experience gave me reservation in even applying.  In addition, I don’t have any chapters written yet for my dissertation and it likely won’t be finished until this summer, so it is slightly premature to be on the job market. However, a former colleague encouraged me to apply so I did despite my reservations. Continue reading