Dare to Ask – Learn the Right Tools to Negotiate Today

CaitClarkeContributed by Cait Clarke

The ‘inconvenient’ truth is that to fully prosper as both a class and – perhaps more importantly – as individuals, women must get better at asserting themselves. Policy and statute are certainly critical to stop flagrant, documentable abuses. Context is important. But women themselves must, in a phrase, become considerably more comfortable about asking for what they want and be adept in getting it.

It was to that end – empowering individual women with skills that couldn’t be marginalized – that I set out to write Dare to Ask! A Woman’s Guidebook to Successful Negotiation. Good negotiating texts available, but few directly show women how to negotiate as women!

There are many reasons women often avoid negotiating – some are part cultural, some are part social, and some are part biological.

  • Cultures worldwide almost universally proclaim the gender value that women not be perceived as pushy or aggressive vis-à-vis men (even at the level of language; for example, there is no male counterpart to the female term ‘bitch’ which adequately connotes the same tone of sexual possession and oppression).
  • Socially, women have historically been fixed in subordinate roles, and thus, conditioned to ‘operate below the radar’ to get what they want. In the absence of socially sanctioned power, one doesn’t have authority to make demands.
  • Biologically, women appear to have evolved in ways that facilitate social bonding (whereas men evolved with a premium placed on climbing and dominating hierarchies). Via a greater preponderance than men of such hormones as oxytocin (sometimes referred to as ‘the cuddle hormone’) and lesser amounts of testosterone, women behave in ways that favor ‘getting along by going along’. Negotiation, on the other hand, is typically perceived as confrontation.

One more factor needs to be mentioned: women have typically not been mentored in negotiating. Most fathers don’t teach daughters how to ‘dare to ask’ for what they want. At work, men will often be exposed early in their careers to situations that call for negotiating; women generally will not be (although this is starting to change as more women penetrate the glass ceiling).

Examples of women suffering from their well-documented reluctance to negotiate are legion. We cite in Dare to Ask! a classic study of the starting salaries of graduates from prestige business schools: those of men were 6% higher than those of women (even more when bonuses are included, with initial differentials compounding over time) because, unlike their female counterparts, they didn’t accept the first deal offered. Even women lawyers, working in a field that focuses on negotiations, are underpaid; at the highest level of elite firms, female partners are paid on average $66,000 less than their male counterparts (this according to Professor Joan Williams of the University of California Hastings Law School).

Learning the Right Tools and Tactics

For women to be effective negotiators, though, it is not enough for them to overcome their various inhibitions (such as the need to be liked, a proclivity to avoid potential conflict, the assumption that the other side will naturally do ‘what is fair and right’). Additionally, they must learn tools and tactics particular to them as women.

When women pattern themselves after men, when they model the aggressive style of the “stereotypical male,” research shows that they do poorly in negotiations. Indeed, worse than they might have done otherwise. As Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard (and others) has shown, such “role reversing” actions trigger underlying gender biases inherent to many social interactions.

When they behave more according to gender expectation, however, women do much better. Rather than repudiate one’s feminine identity when negotiating (which many think is required), just the opposite is called for; when women embrace their identity, they are more successful negotiators.

Perhaps the most important argument in Dare to Ask! is that women, although they’ll often defer from negotiating because of fears of incompetence, actually possess significant natural negotiating advantages.

Those advantages are the social skills at which women (in general) excel: communicating, active listening, empathy, sensitivity to the other, willingness to share – even intuition.

Changing the Negotiation Paradigm

The ‘Big Idea’ in the book is that if one can reframe the negotiating paradigm from “I win/you lose” (which is the standard ‘male – centric’ model) to something we call a “collaborative conversation” (in which the parties collectively problem solve to expand the “pie” over which everyone is attempting to claim their piece), women are both experienced and adept at the process. They are comfortable with the give – and – take of conversation; they encourage inclusion so that everybody participates; they are good at forging consensus.

Thus, if a woman realizes that the social texture of her days is actually a succession of small negotiations, she’ll see that negotiating actually comes naturally to her. We stress this idea in the book and I have found personally that there is great empowerment in this approach.

Cait Clarke, a Washington, D.C. attorney and leadership consultant, is co – author of the recently published Dare to Ask! The Woman’s Guidebook to Successful Negotiating. The only ‘how to’ negotiating book directed specifically to women, it is available at and also

0 Response

  1. I love this article! I find it very hopeful to know that women can successfully negotiate in ways that are natural to them, vs. having to ‘become men’ when they negotiate.

    I’m finding that, in order to be externally effective in negotiations, women must first clarify two things internally:
    1. What DO I want? I and many of the women I work with actually have a difficult time answering that question. It’s hard to negotiate for what we want when we’re either unclear about that.
    2. What is my worth? Women are famous for underestimating their value. In a study where both men and women were asked to state their college GPA’s (a completely objective figure), men consistently said that their GPA was higher than it actually was, while women consistently quoted low. So it’s also difficult to negotiate for ourselves when we’re not sure that we’re worth it.

    Thank you so much for this post. I will definitely purchase the book!

  2. Great article and you make some excellent points on why women tend to shy away from negotiating. In addition to what you already mentioned, I think there needs to be better preparation when you go into a negotiating situation. You have to know what the going rate is in your industry or market, what you need to make it worth your while, and what your added value is relative to your competition.

    And most importantly, you have to be able to walk away from the table if you can’t get what you need.

    Too often I have seen women settle for far less than they needed (what others were getting or even to cover their expenses) in the hopes that they would get more business/raises down the road. Unfortunately what that does is create a much lower floor – it makes it harder (and sometimes makes it impossible) to reach parity or a premium as increases reflect the lower starting point.