Key negotiation strategies for women: earn more, feel confident, and grow your biz

Strategy & Operations Take Yourself Pro
12 min read
In this Article

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: women don’t earn as much as men because they don’t ask for more money.

This fallacy places the brunt of the wage gap on women’s shoulders and tells women that if they simply ask for more money, they’ll get it.

But we know this isn’t true. Research points out that while men and women equally negotiate for higher salaries, women’s requests for more money are often ignored.

And even though you’re your own boss—and don’t need permission to give yourself a raise—you still have plenty to negotiate:

  • Deliverables and deadlines
  • Retainer agreements with clients
  • Solutions for unhappy customers
  • Your boundaries on how often you’re available for client queries and support
  • Your prices for projects
  • The scope of each project

As a woman in the creator economy, I understand how essential—yet challenging—negotiating is. Which is why today, I’m exploring negotiation techniques women can use to succeed.

How negotiations impact the gender pay gap

During a negotiation, the end goal is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement among all parties—including yourself.

When I explored the gender pay gap within the creator economy, I found that women weren’t as successful as men during negotiations. As a result, women end up earning less than their male counterparts. As a woman, I’ve always found negotiations tricky, and brilliant women in the creator space have expressed feeling similar. So I kept digging. I wanted to know why us women aren’t getting what we want during negotiations.

Eventually, I found an answer: popular negotiation techniques set women up for failure.

The reason? Traditional negotiation techniques are male-centric. They tend to be bold, cutthroat, and authoritative. As research points out, society perceives women in the workplace negatively if they don’t fit into deeply ingrained gender expectations, like being kind and gentle.

Take the door-in-the-face technique. In this strategy, you start your negotiations with an outlandish ask, so that your second ask doesn’t seem unreasonable.

How do you think this would work for a woman? Her counterparts might balk at her outlandish ask, think she’s being too cocky, and immediately dismiss anything she says afterwards.

But if a man uses the door-in-the-face strategy, his counterparts might see him as authoritative. They might like his sense of confidence and want to hear more of what he has to say.

As I explored deeper into negotiation strategies one thing was clear: us women need specific strategies to help us succeed with our negotiations.

But why should women tailor their negotiation methods?

I hear you. It would be much better if society shifted their perspective and didn’t penalize us for stepping outside of gender expectations. But unfortunately, the burden is on women to adapt the way we negotiate.

If we don’t tailor our negotiation techniques, we’ll continue to fall short in negotiations and won’t earn as much money or be granted as many opportunities compared to men. And I don’t want that for us, which is why I found six negotiation strategies that work for women, not against us.

6 negotiation techniques to empower women creators

1. Find out the going rate for your industry

Picture this: you recently landed a collaboration with your dream brand. You told them your rates, they happily accepted, and you got to work.

But your initial excitement came to a screeching halt once you found out how much the brand is paying other influencers who have similar followings.

Sound familiar?

Negotiating is a shot in the dark when you don’t know the going rate for your industry. And unfortunately, women are less likely than men to ask their coworkers what they earn prior to negotiations.

But there’s an easy fix: ask around.

Asking other creators how much they charge might seem intimidating, but in most cases, your peers have been in your shoes and are eager to help.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Look up creators in your niche and see if they post their rates on their website
  • Reach out to your peers directly and ask if they mind sharing their rates
  • Use online communities to ask people their rates (sites like Reddit offer annonymonity, and people may be more willing to share their rates with you)
  • Ask your prospective client for their budget before entering negotiations so you have a better idea of how much to charge
  • Join FYPM—a site where influencers share how much they were paid for brand campaigns

While researching rates, talk to people of various genders, races, and skill-levels in your niche. Collecting as much information as possible helps you determine a fair starting point for your negotiations.

2. Envision negotiating on behalf of someone else

Negotiations typically involve a bit of back and forth: you might put one offer on the table, then your counterparty suggests another offer, and then it’s back to you to counter their offer.

Unfortunately, women fear backlash during negotiations—like being labeled as demanding. To avoid these negative labels, women tend to lower their counter offers when negotiating for themselves.

Interestingly, women don’t lower their counter offers when negotiating on behalf of someone else.

To avoid subconsciously lowering your counter offer, envision negotiating on behalf of someone else (even if you aren’t). That other person could be a friend, your younger self, or a family member.

And although this practice might not seem effective, research has discovered that visualizing a task activates the same area of the brain as actually doing the task.

As you imagine yourself negotiating for someone else you’ll lose the fear of being too demanding, and you won’t be as likely to lower your requests in the face of pressure.

3. Frame your requests to others

Women often have to choose between being likeable or competent and usually can’t be both. As Alison Dahl Crossley, the Executive Director of Stanford's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, writes:

It is widely accepted that women should be nurturing, deferent, kind and warm. Men, in contrast, are valued for being confident, in control and outspoken. The problem for women is that the qualities essential to being a successful leader, such as assertiveness and directness, are contrary to predominant norms of femininity.

Because of this, women leaders are often penalized. They may be disliked by their colleagues, or their communication style critiqued, which can result in their being fired or missing out on important promotions or assignments. – Alison Dahl Crossley

Navigating the likeable vs competent conundrum is delicate for us women, but not impossible when negotiating.

To start, frame your request around how it will benefit others.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re a freelance social media marketer who needs to increase a client’s monthly retainer package. When discussing the rate increase with your client, emphasize the benefits for them. You might say something like, “with the increased rate, I can dig deeper into your analytics. When we have a better picture of how your accounts are performing, we can create a strategy to grow your accounts with more targeted followers.”

This example links your ask back to the client and makes it feel less self-serving.

Next, use first-person plural pronouns like our, ourselves, us, and we. Research suggests that using first-person plural pronouns improves negotiations when you’re trying to find a solution that benefits both parties.

Framing your request to someone else and using first-person plural language lets you be likeable and competent during negotiations, even if you have aggressive demands, like raising your rates a considerable amount.

4. Make use of Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers

Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers (MESOs) occur when you present multiple offers during your negotiations and let the other party choose which one suits their needs.

Social media manager and online educator Sílvia Pinho has three different packages she presents to potential clients. Image via Sílvia Pinho.

According to Harvard, “research shows that negotiators who use MESOs achieve better outcomes than those who make a single packaged offer, without sacrificing relationships or losing credibility.”

Social media manager and online educator Sílvia Pinho finds MESOs useful:

I've found that having a range of rates, specifically three at different price points, helps people choose (and often go for the mid-tier one). And if they want to negotiate on price, we can either go for a lower tier one, or merge two of them. – Sílvia Pinho

MESOs make the other party feel as if they are steering the ship and help female creators avoid negative labels like bossy or demanding.

5. Mirror and label your counterparty

Both mirroring and labeling are negotiating techniques that work well for women. Here’s how they work.

Mirroring is where you repeat the last few words of your counterparty’s sentence. If you’re negotiating in person, you can take mirroring a step further and mimic the other person’s body language—like clasping your hands the same way they do or leaning in when they lean in.

Labeling is naming someone’s feelings so they feel understood. This practice helps diffuse negative emotions by making your counterparty feel heard. When labeling, you’ll start your sentence with “it sounds like…” or “it seems like…

Both techniques are empathetic and help women avoid being viewed as pushy.

Here’s an example to help you understand how you can use mirroring and labeling during negotiations. Let’s say you’re a web designer on a call with a potential client. Your conversation might go something like this:

Potential client: We need someone to build an ecommerce site for us.
You: An ecommerce site? <mirroring>
Potential client: Yes. We want to launch our site before the holiday season starts. We’ve been refining our product all year and we’re finally ready to get things moving!
You: It seems like you’re excited for your launch. <labeling>
Potential client: We are. But we want to make sure everything is ready by Q4. We don’t want customers to have issues placing orders during the busiest time of the year.
You: Wonderful. It sounds like you’re nervous that there might be issues when customers place an order. <labeling>
Potential client: Yes. We want to make sure our website is ready to handle all the traffic we plan to get.
You: All the traffic? <mirroring>
Potential client: We’ll be using paid ads and doing a lot of promotions to advertise our new product, so everything needs to work exactly as planned.

Your hypothetical conversation might not seem like a lot, but you’ve done two important things:

  1. You’ve made the other person feel heard by labeling their emotions and repeating key phrases. This builds rapport fast, and makes the other person more likely to accept your offer.
  2. You’ve learned they plan to spend money on ads and they want to have a big launch. You can use these points to help justify your rates. For example, part of your proposal could include finishing the website a month before the Q4 so you have plenty of time to test and ensure the launch goes off without a hitch.

Keep in mind that for mirroring and labeling to be successful it needs to be subtle, otherwise the conversation comes across as unnatural. To get into the swing of mirroring and labeling, try practicing these techniques with your friends and family.

6. Enter into a powerful state of mind prior to negotiating

Harvard found resistance to be one of the top challenges women face during negotiations. During negotiations, counterparties tend to dismiss a woman’s ideas or question her competence. Often, these powermoves are enough to throw women off-balance during negotiations, causing them to lower their initial offer or back down.

But research points to an incredibly simple solution—recalling a moment of power before you negotiate.

Researchers at the University in the Netherlands conducted a study to uncover how feelings of power affect women who are negotiating.

To prime participants to feel powerful, the researchers asked one group of participants to journal about a time when they had power over one or more people. After participants finished journaling, they entered into mock negotiations.

The study found that women who recalled an experience that made them feel powerful negotiated better outcomes for themselves compared to the women who weren’t asked to recall an experience.

Before your next negotiation, take 15 minutes to write about a time when you felt powerful. This exercise keeps you grounded during any resistance you might face during your negotiations, and prevents you from diminishing your request.

Time for women to take back their power during negotiations

Research continually points to the fact that women are negotiating just as much as men but aren’t getting what they ask for.

Practicing female-friendly negotiation techniques will put you in the driver’s seat during your negotiations and ensure you have more favorable outcomes (without any backlash).
Does this mean you shouldn’t use other techniques that may be better suited for men? Absolutely not! I encourage you to experiment and see which ones work best for you.

During your next negotiation, try one—or more!—of the following techniques to help you secure better deals, increase your income, and feel more confident.

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Dana Nicole

Dana is a freelance writer who works closely with B2B SaaS brands to create content people enjoy reading. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a good book (the scarier, the better). See what she’s up to at www.dananicoledesigns.com

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