Can Women Learn Better Negotiating From Men?

It doesn’t matter if you’re Jennifer Lawrence or an Economics Professor at Harvard or a self-published author working from her kitchen table, we all do it. Women,that is–we all play it small too often. And we’ve been doing it so long that we don’t realize it. It’s ingrained in us. We settle for less, demand little, back down, undervalue ourselves. We don’t want to appear pushy or rude or, god-forbid, so pompous that we think our work is worth a lot of money. So we just don’t ask for more.

It’s an issue that has caught my attention several times lately. It started with Jennifer Lawrence and her essay in Lenny. I loved it that she owned her mistakes in negotiating her contract and earning much less than her male co-stars in the movie American Hustle. She didn’t blame anyone but did note that in hindsight her reasons were not wanting to appear greedy or troublesome, two pejorative adjectives often hurled at women who know their worth and ask for it.

Her point stuck in my head but didn’t really hit home until I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast about the gender pay gap. The guest expert was Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University who specializes in studying gender economics. Dr. Goldin presented some fantastic data that showed that most of the gap in pay is not due to outright discrimination, but to the choices that women make, usually in favor of family over career. But it was the closing segment of the podcast that really got my attention. In it Dr. Goldin told a story about doing some consulting work, which she doesn’t normally do, and assuming she would not be paid. The company needing her help offered to pay her $2,000, which she agreed to. Before finishing the project she was told that the other two consultants, both men, were paid two times what she was, because they asked. The lesson is about how we see our work, all work, and how much we value it.

Unless we value our work no one else will.

The men who did the consulting work with Dr. Goldin valued their time and skills more than she did. They didn’t think to offer either for free. No matter what work you are doing, value it–Harvard professor, actress, writer, stay-at-home mom. All our work is valuable.

It’s pretty hard to get paid for mothering or volunteer work, but you can still understand and acknowledge your value by respecting your time. Evaluate each request for your time and feel free to say no. Teach your children that mothering makes an important contribution to society. Note to yourself and your family all the ways that their quality of life is better for the mom things you do.

Women also tend to think they have to be an expert to ask for top pay for their work, men generally don’t. It’s hard to say when you are an expert. Just being in a field puts you ahead of those just entering and means you have something of value to offer. This week I will be teaching a class on how to self-publish, something that is a huge leap forward for me. I’ve actually been teaching for years at a university, but this is the first time I didn’t wait for someone else to tell me I had enough skills in a subject to teach it. Being only two years into self-publishing the lessons I learned as a beginner are still fresh. I vividly remember feeling lost and searching for answers. I can’t tell you how excited I am to offer all those answers to others just joining my field and developing a new revenue stream for myself.

There is an art to negotiating, one that can be learned. While it’s true that you might knock yourself out of the game by quoting too high, it doesn’t look like women are in danger of doing that anytime soon. This is one area where we need to learn a lesson from men. They are taught that they should play big and value their contributions. They know to ask for more, because that’s the only way you are going to get it.

Are you guilty of not asking for more? I am. This topic hit home because I saw myself in those stories. Like Jennifer Lawrence I want to be seen as nice and not make waves. Like Professor Goldin I’m too often willing to give my time and knowledge for free or take whatever money is offered. Comment below and share your stories of when you wish you had asked for more or when you did.



Gifted and Geeky

In our local school system all kids are tested for the “gifted” program between first and second grade. It’s an IQ test combined with a few others that test thinking style then a one-on-one interview.

Both of my sons were placed in the gifted program based on these tests but believe me I am not bragging when I say that. Read on.

We have a standing joke in our house. The school calls. They say, “Mrs. Gordon?” I debate whether to pretend they have a wrong number. I eventually cop to being Mrs. Gordon. Their next question is always, “How are you today?” These are never just friendly calls so I always reply, “I don’t know, you tell me.” Then I get to find out what one of my gifted sons has done now.

Another word for gifted could be divergent, or odd-man-out, or 5%. The gifted program could also be called round pegs in square holes. It’s for the kids who think fast (and that’s usually good) and who process information differently than most of the general population. Which is often not a good thing at school, a system designed to accommodate the majority.

The biggest misconception about gifted kids (adults too) is that life will be easy for them. They will cruise through school, wowing their teachers, then maybe finish college early to begin a prestigious career a la Doogie Howser.

Some do have an easy time in school. They often don’t have to study much so they take the tests, get the grades and leave with little gained but a sterling GPA. But many don’t have such an easy time. Imagine as an adult repeating 5th grade. You would grasp the concepts quickly (because you probably forgot most of them) then you would be ready to move on, quickly. But the lessons on each idea would be scheduled to last for the next few weeks. Those would be l-o-n-g weeks for you. That is what school feels like for a lot of gifted kids.

I had to stop by school once to drop off something for my kid when he was in 3rd grade. I watched him through the door for a minute before knocking. His head was thrown back and he had a marker in his teeth. He was using it to mentally count ceiling tiles during math class. The good news about this class was that this teacher let him do that. She knew he would ace the test and as long as he was quiet he needed to distract himself and not the other kids. School is more of a compromise than a challenge for the gifted.

So why send them, you might ask. Social skills would be the number one reason. I could home school (shudders) and some families of gifted kids do. We don’t because I believe the social skills they have to learn at school are vital in life, maybe more vital than theorems and grammatical rules. When you think differently than 90 – 95% of other people it can be hard to relate to others. Yes, these are the Dungeons and Dragons kids, who can wrap their brains around complex games with a litany of rules. The problem is they often can’t understand why the other kids can’t do the same. That social deficit is hard when you are in school and can mean being unemployed after you graduate. Lessons like “it’s not nice to correct your teacher’s (boss’s) grammar (math, etc.)” are the ones that keep gifted kids from living in their parent’s basements when they’re 30.

I’ve hesitated writing this blog post. The misconceptions about being gifted make articles about it seem like whining about being rich. But I’m not whining. There are so many great benefits to being part of this family. I have the most fascinating conversations with my kids. We discuss world religious philosophies, politics, the structure of literature. But we also discuss sportsmanship (as applied to math contests) and how counter revolutionary ideals should not be applied to defeating the school dress code. Because when that happens, I get a call … Mrs. Gordon …

Is That in My Job Description?

It’s both a benefit and frustration of the job that being Chick in Charge (aka Mom, homemaker, etc.) has no real job description.  Most days I get by on a combination of stuff I learned from my mom, advice from magazines and friends and just winging it.  There are are also no annual reviews or pay raises to let you know if you are doing a good job.  Occasionally you get a customer satisfaction survey, but that often comes in the form of teenage kvetching or flowers on your one holiday in May.  It’s hard to know if I am doing a good job or even exactly what my job is (or isn’t).

I’m a very analytical person.  I like numbers and solid proof, but I’m not sure what data I would or could use to verify my effectiveness as CIC.  Did my family eat this week (check) was it nutritious (ummm, most days, half check), did my kids show up at school everyday (check) on time (check) with the stuff they need (ummm).  

Women’s magazines seem to be very clear on what makes a “good” mom.  She goes above and beyond, always.  Her family always eats home-cooked meals that feature balanced nutrition, organic ingredients and come in under budget.  Not only do her kids have perfect attendance records at school (because she would never let them get sick), she is always at their school.  She’s a room mom, PTA volunteer and lunch monitor so she can spend more time with her kids.  

I see two HUGE problems with that job description.  First, if she does everything for her kids, they are not learning to take care of themselves, which leads to problem number two, eventually (hopefully) they will leave home and she will be out of a job that has consumed her life.  

There is a part of me who feels great when I do everything for my kids, when I make their life easier, softer, sweeter.  But, the reality is, I’m not doing them or me any favors if I don’t teach them to stand on their own and take care of themselves. If they don’t do their laundry (or don’t bother to put soap in when they do) the result is stinky clothes and friends who avoid them, a good lesson to learn.  Natural consequences are great at teaching life lessons, IF I can get out of the way and allow the natural consequences to happen.  For me, the hard part is ignoring how much it looks like I am failing at my job when I do this.  

This morning was typical.  My older son couldn’t find a belt (required at his school).  I knew he had left it in a suitcase so I told him where to find it.  It sped up the process, but he has come to rely on me knowing where all his stuff is (and he is definitely not the only one in this house guilty of that).  It’s hard to know when to stop; when to let him think back to the last time he saw it and find it himself or take the consequence of not having it on at school.  

In the next month both my kids have birthdays, moving one step farther away from me and toward independence.  My job is being slowly phased out and I’m being eased into mommy retirement.  My heart tells me to hang on, do nice things for them while I still can; but my head tells me to keep pushing them away, let them try and possibly fail, learning life’s lessons.  In the end, I will be the only one to decide if I’ve succeeded or failed at this job.  I’ve created my own job description and it looks something like this:  launch two happy, productive adults into this world and leave one satisfied, relieved CIC behind.