By Deborah Rosenbloom, JWI Director of Programs

Negotiation – we’ve done it all our lives. As little girls, we negotiated our bedtimes; as older sisters, we negotiated whether we had to share our toys; with friends, we negotiated who would drive and which movie to see. Yet, when it comes to salary – something that really matters – we are silent. I’ve been struck by this time and again when I meet young women – teens, college students and young professionals – through JWI’s Life$avings: Financial Literacy for Young Women program.

Recently at Queens College, like at other schools, students told me that they never knew that they were allowed to negotiate when they got a job offer. Young professionals at JWI’s Summer Series breakfast briefings told me that they aware they were earning less than their male counterparts, but didn’t know what to do about it. Teens in Clearwater, Florida told me that they were scared to negotiate their wages for dog-walking or babysitting with their neighbors.  These young women were afraid the potential employer would rescind the job offer, that the employer would just say no, or that their neighbor wouldn’t like them anymore. In other words, they felt powerless and they were afraid to jeopardize what little power they did have.

I like to frame the issue of negotiation as one of power and ask young women to think about the power dynamic in the different scenarios. If a potential employer makes you a job offer – who has the power? If a neighbor wants to go out on a romantic date (without the children), and you’re an experienced babysitter – who has the power? And if you’ve already been hired – who has the power? Once participants understand the power they hold at a particular moment, they can begin to learn how to negotiate. Through role-plays, critiques, and tips  a scary moment can turn into a win-win situation.

Now instead of saying ‘thank you, when can I start’, these young women have learned to say  ‘thank you, I’d like to discuss salary.’

Join the conversation – do you have negotiation experiences you’d like to share?

Read this blog by Rachel Simmons, a former JWI Woman to Watch, about her work on negotiation with college students.

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