Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gender and negotiations

Small unconscious things like gender reactions make a difference. My mind's been pushed - just a little - to think differently about this topic, but that small push was what finally sent it careening over the edge from self-imposed indifference into... what? I'm not sure. Not radical feminism, not blazing anger, paralyzing sadness, resignation, indignance, nothing that clear-cut. It will take a while for me to be able to digest and explain my thoughts on the subject now, but all I know is that they are no longer "well, gender doesn't matter for me." (Some of you may know what triggered this shift; I'm not going to talk about it here because I'm planning to carry it a little further, but I'm happy to talk about it via email.)

I look around the dinners at the Foundry where we're starting a nonprofit, my electrical engineering classrooms and teams, my cocurriculars in web development, the companies and labs I've worked for. I look around and I usually don't think at all about being female because... I don't see any other females. But what does that do? What does that mean? Does it affect anything?

If it did, would I even notice?

That was on my mind today as I walked through the first of three career fairs on Olin's campus. Plenty of great companies around today, most of them heavier on the software side of things, which suited me just fine. So job fairs, gender, and unconscious performance-affecting habits have all been swimming around in my brain.

This led me once again to a book called Women Don't Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. I highly recommend it to anyone who is earning or hopes to earn a salary someday, regardless of gender or job; it points out subtle habits that people may fall into that could either advantage or disadvantage them, tells you how to become aware of them, and then shows you how to change it. If you want to. I'm reading it for the fifth time since last year. Among other things, it talks about finding out how much you're worth, and then getting it (or, if you're a stupid idealist like me who'll work for pennies for the right cause, at least understand fully the financial consequences of your actions).

Yeah, researching salary ranges isn't my idea of a jolly fun time either. But it's an investment; if you can spend a few days now while you're 18, or 20, or 22, and become aware of the tiny things that influence your impact (and - okay, your salary, although I try very hard not to care about that), compound interest will kick in. Influence, opportunities, and finances all grow exponentially. A tiny difference right now can make you much, much better off years down the road; this is something folks who want to change the world need to be acutely aware of.

Val Henson, who originally introduced me to Women Don't Ask, is the author of this howto negotiate your salary and benefits article which is excellent (and geared towards women) as well as shorter and more to-the-point than the book. A shorter, non-gender specific article about negotiations for geeks also has some tidbits in it if you really don't have time.

It'll be interesting to see whether I actually pull up the guts to do this during my own job interviews. Knowing you should do something and doing it are very different things, and we've already established that I continuously deliberately screw myself over because I'm trying to please or be "nice." Perhaps I should make a pact with some friends - if they do it, I'll do it, and we'll hold each other to it.

More about that last point later. I'm interested in hearing about people's experiences with negotiations, though. How did you figure things out when you got your first job? If you've been on the flip side of hiring someone, what's the conversation like from that vantage point?

1 comment:

David Klempner said...

My biggest remarks regarding the linked howto: make sure not to overcorrect on enthusiasm. Being somewhat enthusiastic is a good thing; the trick is to not let it affect your negotiating position.

Also, not being the first to mention a (material) number is a big thing. There are cases where it makes sense, but it's much easier to hurt yourself by dropping a number that's too low than to help yourself by starting things at the right point.

It's easy to have the wrong mindset about this stuff at first...