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?