Negotiate or stagnate


Women are less likely to negotiate, period. This can have far-reaching impacts in our families, our social circles and our professional lives. Everything from the division of duties in the home, teamwork, boundaries in relationships, stretch opportunities, promotions, salary, hours of work, vacation, benefits and title. And what about the negotiation that goes on in our heads? These are the negotiations we have with ourselves. It's narrative that shapes our self-esteem and our confidence.

I recently attended a breakfast presentation with the RBC Woman Executive in Residence Program at the University of Regina's Faculty of Business Administration.

Deborah M. Kolb was the presenter. She is an authority in the areas of negotiation, leadership and gender. Definitely check out her book.



What struck me the most about Deborah's message, was the assertion that we are always in a negotiation. Always. When the negotiation matters, we really need to know how to do it.

Recently at Lean in with Donna, we were talking about having the necessary skills to negotiate, advocate and defend unconscious gender bias. When you are put in a position to defend yourself especially, it can feel like an impossible situation. I know I have been there. Sometimes negotiation can feel like a career-limiting move.

On my first day back to the office after my first maternity leave, I found out that my role was not being returned to me, and would instead stay with the person who had covered for me while I was away. When I sought an explanation, my executive-level boss said to me, "Who cuts their maternity leave short for a project?" This statement was punctuated by scoffing and throwing her shoulders. I was heartbroken. I loved my career, and I had deliberately taken less than a year of leave so that I could return to it. I definitely saw my role as more significant than "a project."

When I tried to communicate my passion, I was further reprimanded. Pressing further felt dangerous.

At the time, this was deeply personal. The experience left me with a lot of anxiety when I took my second maternity leave. Years later, I now know that this happens to women all the time. They loose ground even if their job is there when they return. This disadvantage makes negotiation even more important.

One of the best thing we can do is understand the barriers we encounter and how to navigate them. This means being prepared for a significant negotiation.

Here is my take on Deborah's steps for negotiating:

  1. Recognize that you are in a negotiation. This happens every time someone asks you to do something extraordinary at work for example.
  2. Be prepared to negotiate. If you are going to be asking for something that is really important to you, then do your research. Come into the discussion with good information and options for consideration. These are things you can pivot to during the discussion. And always know the other person's position. Deborah says to go in knowing the top 5 reasons they have for saying no.
  3. Set the context for good negotiations. You can do this by showing your value to others. Highlight your contributions so that they do not go unnoticed. Enlist supporters in your network to advocate for you.
  4. Practice  your skills for managing the negotiation. Use questions to bridge difficult elements of the discussion. Be on the lookout for mutually beneficial options and windows for collaboration. Being successful here will be learning how to deal with resistance, which is a topic unto itself. You may have to be persistent across multiple conversations.

This may seem scary, but it will pay off. Looking at the example of salary below, 89 per cent of men and women who made a request for a higher salary when starting a new job were successful.


Making the ask is often the most challenging part of the negotiation. So practice asking for things, even if they seem small. And start with people you trust.

There is little that will be more limiting than having a negative negotiation within your own mind. You are negotiating  yourself down before you even begin. Look inside and see what you find.

Good luck career adventurers. And thank you to Deborah Kolb for her inspiring work and for charting the path for us.

Much love,


If this moves you, I invite you to join in on the conversation by posting a comment or sharing on social media.

More about Deborah Kolb on LinkedIn:

In her latest keynote, Deborah Kolb helps audiences address the real issues that keep many women and high-potential leaders from advancing faster to the top. By showing audiences that negotiations don’t occur in a vacuum, but within a context of organizational culture, prior negotiations, and power relationships she helps them better understand which issues are negotiable, and by whom. When we negotiate, we challenge the status quo. When we do it well, we create “small wins” for the individual that quickly grow into “big gains”- becoming game-changers for the individual’s career, inspiring others, and adding value to the organization by laying the path for a more diversified pool of leaders at the top.

Audiences gain many benefits from Deborah’s work as they learn to: • Understand the hidden barriers that often go unrecognized in organizations • Develop concrete strategies and skills required to navigate these barriers • Secure career wins for themselves that also become big gains for the organization