Negotiating as a Woman

I was recently offered a job at a large institution in my city. As a long-time entrepreneur, I had made the decision to stop struggling so hard and step into some stability. I was glad to be transitioning to a steady job with a regular paycheck and benefits.

I was (and am) excited about my new role and this next chapter in my life. When I received the offer letter from the institution I was surprised by the package. It wasn’t what I had expected. I consulted with my partner who is an employment attorney and a good friend who works at the said institution about what to do.

Together we came up with a counter-proposal to the Human Resources department. I was nervous and scared to be pushing back against such an albatross of bureaucracy. I felt out of place — tiny me asking this behemoth of an organization for more money and better benefits. There was a part of me that felt like I should just take what they offered, that I was lucky to be getting a job at all after all of these years of running my own business and being my own boss.

But my ego, bolstered by my friend and partner, cheered me on. I pushed back to HR and asked for what I wanted, what I thought I deserved. And they said no. They said the offer was firm and it was all they had to give me. They said their offer was actually on the higher range of what they normally offer for a position such as mine. They’d won and I’d lost.

I felt so exposed. I felt like I had just walked into Nordstrom completely naked with dirty feet and greasy hair. Everyone around could see me. They were staring and snickering. The jig was up. There was no more discussion. If I wanted the job I would take their offer.

And I did (and do!) want the job. I am excited about it and can’t wait to get started. Now, naked and exposed, the ball was in my court. As I waited and worried about what to do, the director of the department where I would be working sent me an email saying that she wanted to have a phone conversation with me to talk things through before we went any further.

I panicked. I had asked for too much. I was out of line. Out of touch. I was an egomaniac. A spoiled brat. An entitled asshole. I didn’t deserve what I had asked for. I had ruined my chances. Soiled the nest. As the time for our phone call approached I paced from my kitchen to my office twenty-nine times. I felt like I was going to throw up. I role-played with my partner. I read and re-read emails between me and HR. I felt desperate — one-inch tall, lost and afraid in a meadow of tall grass. At 3:00 pm my future boss called.

“Listen,” she said in a strong, clear, experienced voice, “I am in full support of people advocating for a higher salary. As a woman, I am especially happy when I see other women doing it. You didn’t do anything wrong,” she stressed, “we just don’t have any more money to offer. But I want you to know that I will always do my best to get you and everyone on my team the best deal I can.”