Ladies, Why Making it to the Negotiating Table is Just Not Enough

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At Twomentor, we share bi-weekly thought leadership from phenomenal executives and social entrepreneurs focused on: a diverse skilled workforce, social impact entrepreneurship, mentoring cultures, sponsorship and elevating women in STEM careers. This week we discussed how conversations and preparation can help women get ahead (or harm them) professionally with Melissa Tischler. Melissa is Associate Partner and the Head of the Strategy team for Fahrenheit 212, an innovation, strategy and design firm in NY. She also helped found Women in Innovation. She reminded me of one of my favorite business adages: “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate” and shared how leaning in and getting to the negotiating table is just not enough.

Julie@twomentor: As a leader managing women, what changes have you seen over the last few years amongst your team?

Melissa: In the past, the women on my team at Fahrenheit 212 tended to be more passive about their career advancement. They often waited for raises and promotions, hoping good work would be recognized without needing to advocate for themselves.

In recent years, it is clear that Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In message has taken root – women are conscious of the fact that they must be their most powerful advocate, and actively come to the table by initiating conversations about their careers. I’ve been excited to see women pushing themselves to reach for more, whether that be money, opportunity, or title. Most importantly they’re recognizing that they need to take ownership of their careers.

That being said, I’ve seen women placing the majority of their energy into mustering the courage to get to the table, rather than working on how to have that conversation successfully one they are at the table. I’ve unfortunately seen some of these conversations go sideways.

Twomentor: In what ways have you seen these conversations go wrong? Are there commonalities in the mistakes you’re seeing?

Melissa: In my career and mentoring relationships, I’ve heard about these conversations going wrong in many different ways. I know of one woman who got to the table, declared the salary she wanted and then burst into tears. Clearly the stress of asking had gotten the best of her in the moment. Another asked for a raise and then launched into a series of threats if the raise didn’t come through. A third asked for a promotion. When asked why she felt this was deserved, rather than discussing her accomplishments, she justified the request with “because I want it” and “because so-and-so was promoted”.

I’m watching women put all their energy in the getting to the ask and building the confidence to make the request, without putting similar thought into how to make the request credible.

I’m also seeing women forget that these are business conversations. They should not be approached as personal pleas, no matter how friendly they may be with their boss. Instead, they should be structured like any other well-reasoned conversation with a colleague or client. This is especially important with a female boss. While the female boss may have greater empathy for the nerves, emotions, and stress of these conversations, it doesn’t mean the content of conversation can take a less rational, reasoned or supported path.

Additionally, it’s not enough to muster up the courage to come to the table once. Instead these should be ongoing dialogues with multiple chapters and natural progressions, rather than a single, high-stress, all-in moment to ask for what they want.

Twomentor: These are make or break moments for women’s careers. Why do you think women are struggling in these discussions?

Melissa: My hunch is that this is due to a number of things. The first is that the Lean In message has become shorthand for the act of getting oneself to the table. While Sheryl Sandberg covers how to make a strong case for oneself once in the moment, the overwhelming message I’ve seen women internalize has been the importance of the ask. Second, I think women lack training in how to make these conversations effective. I had the benefit of an excellent negotiations course in business school, which has easily been the most important and practical training I received in grad school.

But training doesn’t have to be academic. Women are also lacking in mentors who could be coaching and training them for these crucial moments. Despite a rich set of research that shows that mentorship helps elevate more women to senior roles (which impacts the bottom line to a 15% increase in profitability), that it is crucial for talent attraction and retention, that it helps both mentors and mentees achieve more professionally, and that it boosts job satisfaction, a recent study found that 63% of women have never had a mentor.

Without these mentors, there is limited room to practice these conversations, and gain honest advice and feedback.

Twomentor: In what ways have you been trying to help women who are having these conversations?

Melissa: One of my primary motivations in co-founding Women in Innovation in early 2016 was to help women to advance in their careers. WIN, a nonprofit that seeks to empower women in innovation to become world-class leaders, disruptive thinkers, and changemakers of today and tomorrow, provides the perfect platform to mentor women within the discipline of innovation.

We focus on building the skills of women in the innovation industry – helping them gain the tools to be successful in their roles, but also in the moments of actively seeking to advance and advocate for themselves. As part of it, we have built a formal mentoring program. This year, we facilitated 198 sign ups for 7 mentorship focus areas: defining a career path, managing your personal brand, managing work/life balance, building confidence, managing difficult conversations, and the art of self-promotion.

Twomentor: How has WIN’s mentorship program helped women navigate these conversations?

Melissa: I’ve been having many conversations with my mentee about advancement – it’s one of the topics we come back to frequently. Last year, she met with me and explained that she had had a conversation with her boss that sounded a good deal like the ones I’ve been describing. She expressed that she expected a promotion and then asked that it be granted. When it wasn’t, she was very disappointed.

Since then, we’ve talked through how to approach individual meetings with senior people at her firm. We’ve talked about what she can do to demonstrate growth and development, the timing and cadence of the conversations she wants to have along the way to the promotion cycle, and have been strategic and deliberate in how she’s setting herself up for the next step.

Twomentor: How can women without access to a group like WIN build skills to improve their approach to these challenging conversations?

Melissa: First, seek out trusted mentors – only 20% of women say they’ve been asked to mentor others with any frequency. A good mentor can provide an objective sounding board, a fresh perspective on your situation, and can help you strategize.

Second, understand the importance of planning before important conversations. Build your plan, write down your speaking points, make a logical and rational case, don’t assume the person on the other side of the table knows all the facts. Make a solid case for yourself and present it with confidence.

Third, treat these conversations as ongoing discussions, rather than annual or bi-annual make-or-break moments. They should be an evolving conversation, which makes each individual conversation within the broader dialog a bit easier.

Lastly, practice! With a friend, a family member, a pet, the mirror. Practice until you can make your case confidently.

Twomentor: What is your top advice for women looking to take a stronger leadership role, and advance in their careers?

Melissa: My best advice is to ask for what you want with a thoughtful and articulate case. Do the work before you get in the room so you’re polished, prepared, and ready when you get there. Go in with confidence, ready to share the full story of why you feel you’ve earned what you’re asking for.


Melissa Tischler began her relationship with Fahrenheit 212 as a client. After working with the team from the other side of the table, she made the leap to the Strategy team. Today, she is an Associate Partner and the Head of the Strategy team. In this role, she guides the Strategy team to create solutions are commercially rigorous, feasible, and strategically aligned to the clients’ business. She is also a member of Fahrenheit 212’s Senior Leadership Team. Since joining in 2010, Melissa has one of Fahrenheit 212’s strongest track records in helping clients get their innovations to market. She has launched more than a dozen new products and businesses across hospitality, consumer packaged goods, non-profits, and financial services. While at Fahrenheit 212, Melissa has helped found the non-profit Women in Innovation, a network of innovation professionals in NYC focused on advancing women within the industry through skill building.

Julie Kantor is CEO of Twomentor, LLC, a high impact training company focused on talent strategies for a diverse workforce. We value mentoring cultures, building diverse sponsorship initiatives & an entrepreneurial mindset. We have experience working with Fortune 500 Companies, SMBs, Universities and offer facilitated (and fun) mentor + sponsorship training, Mentor Road Trip™ Flash Mentoring, best practice strategy and keynote speaking. Plug in to our unparalleled network in the entrepreneurship & STEM ecosystems to drive change. Learn more here

#fahrenheit212 #mentoring #womenininnovation #nyc #twomentor #melissatischler

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