Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, in the must-read Ask for It!, define negotiation as "a tool to help change [or preserve] the status quo when change [or preservation] requires the agreement of another person.
Why should women learn to negotiate? Here's the succinct and powerful message Babcock and Laschever have for us:
The consequences of not negotiating in the workplace are pretty extreme. First and foremost, women earn much less money than men over the course of their careers. We calculated that just by not negotiating her first job offer—simply accepting what she's offered rather than negotiating for more—a woman sacrifices anywhere from half a million dollars to one and a half million dollars in lost income over the course of her career. This is a massive loss for a one-time negotiation—for avoiding what is usually no more than five minutes of discomfort—and it's an unnecessary loss, because most employers expect people to negotiate and therefore offer less than they're prepared to pay. And far more men than women negotiate their first offers. Since men also negotiate more than women throughout their careers—or negotiate more aggressively—the financial losses to women can be truly staggering.
Once upon a time, several generations of women all decided at pretty much the same moment that they did not wish to be economically marginalized anymore. They didn't want to see themselves portrayed primarily as air-heads who couldn't successfully drive a car to the market, let alone manage a hedge fund.
In living rooms all over the country, women met and talked about their hopes, their dreams and their frustrations. We'd all read The Feminine Mystique and The Second Sex and Sexual Politics. We were married and single, gay and straight, young and middle aged and old. We were college graduates and undergrads, high school drop-outs, teenage mothers and ex-offenders. We were poor and middle class. A few of us were what I then would have called "rich." I was 21 and 22 and 23. I met my first woman lawyer at the same time I met teenage runaways and women hiding from violent husbands in battered women's shelters.
What we did was share our life experiences in the context of a movement whose purpose it was to remove women from the ranks of second-class citizenship. Sure, we fought for control and over values. Some of us aligned ourselves with all members of the third world and some of us just wanted our fair share of the American White Man's Pie. Some of us were Democrats and some Republicans. Many called themselves "radical" because they re-envisioned America as a place where economic resources were more fairly allocated. Many were veterans of the peace movement and the student free speech movement. They'd grown tired of cooking casseroles and making coffee for the young men who planned the marches against the war. They were tired of being told that their "time" hadn't yet come - that they should wait until the war was over and those suffering racial and ethnic oppression had been liberated. They (we) didn't want to wait any longer.
Because I remember the resistance to change (no one will ever use the title "Ms." or call the head of a committee "the Chair" or change fireman to "fire fighter") and because I also remember how our society was nevertheless transformed, I'd like to see it all happen again.
Why? Because we're still not asking for enough. And because negotiating economic power for ourselves and our children and our children's children is not rocket science. Once we learn our true market value and name it, we're ready to claim it. And once we learn how to claim it, we can at last narrow - and perhaps even close -- the persistent wage and income gap all by ourselves without the need for new laws or rights or remedies.
I'm envisioning dozens of women's circles in every town in America, reading Ask for It! and sharing their experiences in relationship to it. Because Ask for It! is a workshop in a book, there's no reason in the world why every woman in America cannot learn to use the negotiation tools necessary to change that which can be changed, preserve that which must be preserved and once again revolutionize the status of women in America.
It's that powerful. And it's that important.