Keep Calm & NegotiateWhat does salary negotiation have to do with becoming a new working mom?  When I got pregnant, went out on maternity leave, and came back from leave, I – like many new mamas – wondered how having a baby affected my value to my employer.

I admit feeling I was somehow “worth less” to them than before.  After all, I suffered from morning sickness, took maternity leave, pumped during the day when I came back, and left earlier each afternoon to get to daycare before it closed.  (These were incredibly unhelpful stories to be telling myself, to be sure.)

Never mind that I had accomplished an amazing amount each year since having a baby.  That I continued to meet all deadlines.  And that I was a speaker at key industry conferences, etc.  These thoughts don’t sound entirely foreign to you, right?

I was lucky after I had my babies to have a boss who encouraged me to remember all the skills and benefits new mothers bring to the workplace.  She also encouraged me to take credit at evaluation time for all the hard work I had done.  This included not only succeses in my job, but also in planning for and executing a really smooth transition into and out of maternity leave.  Back then, I really needed that advice to help me re-frame my thoughts around value, so I could advocate for myself when evaluation and salary negotiation time came around.

A few years into this working motherhood thing, I’m still looking for good advice on navigating compensation negotiations.  So when I noticed a women’s networking breakfast on compensation skills on the program of a conference I was attending, I decided it was worth getting out of bed to attend.

The panel was phenomenal.  It was moderated by Carol Carden of PYA.  Panelists Dot Powell-Woodson of Wiley Rein, Craig Holden of Ober Kaler, and Lisa Hogan of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, had some fantastic stories and advice that convinced me that our mindset in these negotiations has everything to do with our results.  I immediately wanted to incorporate their strategies into my own approach to compensation and to share their pearls of wisdom with all of you.

What did these awesome professionals teach me about best practices in salary negotiation? 

(1)    You’re not alone in being nervous about this.  Hogan told a story about worrying whether her shoes even matched when she went to work in the morning after having a baby.  (Which reminded me of those first rather dire days as a working parent.)  It makes sense, Hogan notes, that we as new parents would have an “ambivalent attitude” toward compensation in this chapter of our lives.  We don’t want to overpromise, given the unpredictability of days as an new parent.  Yet we do want to be recognized for our efforts.

(2)    Mindset matters – and (stereotypically speaking) varies between men and women:  Powell-Woodson explained this concept pretty simply with the following contrasts:

Men:  You must prove to me that I don’t deserve this raise.  Women:  I need to prove to you that I deserve this raise.

Men:  I’m the best, even if others are good, too.  Women:  I can’t be the best because others are good, too.

Men:  You are so lucky to have me here.  (If you tick me off, I can walk away and be just fine.)  Women:  I am so lucky to be able to work here.

Ouch.  These definitely resonated with me, and I’ll be working to adopt the more helpful “male” mindsets starting NOW.

(3)    Keep a log throughout the year of how you’ve moved the ball.  All the panelists focused on how important it is to keep track of your own successes.  For the past few years I’ve kept a Word file where I track wins as they happen, and this document always comes in handy at review time.

(4)    Get a compensation negotiation “advocate”.  This is my favorite piece of advice from the panel.  Powell-Woodson made an analogy to the music industry, where artists have agents advocating on their behalf.  We all may not have an agent, but we can all team up with a colleague and ask them about how they view us.  We can ask things like, “How should I present myself?”, “What should I say about my accomplishments during my review?”, and “In what order should I present this information?”  Sign me up for a compensation buddy!

(5)    You get only ONE shot at threatening to leave.  Holden offered some sage advice about threatening to walk.  “You only get to play the ‘I’m going!’ card once.  You have to be prepared to act on it.”  Yes, you can always talk about what you’ve heard going on in the market, but never issue the direct threat unless you mean it.

(6)    Adopt the mantra, “EVERYONE has life issues.”  Powell-Woodson advocates putting aside your “life issues” at compensation time. Instead, focus on your contributions.  Everyone has something going on in their lives.  As you are planning your negotiation strategy, take your family out of the equation.

(7)    Prioritize relationship-building.  I know from personal experience how hard it is to do lunches, happy hours, and other networking events when you are sleep deprived, newly back from leave, and barely able to get through your day’s top to-do’s.  The panelists emphasized that relationship-building must be a priority, though.  Making sure decision-makers in your organization know you and what you do absolutely must be on that list of essentials.  Set a goal for yourself of one noteworthy outreach per month, and get a lunch on the calendar with someone in your organization’s leadership.

“Some people are good at compensation negotiations because they are delusional narcissists,” said Powell-Woodson.  “And some are bad at compensation negotiations because they think everyone already knows the value of their work.”

Reminding our colleagues about the value of our contributions, mamas, does not make us delusional narcissists.

You have skills and accomplishments you can and should tout, regardless of your status of a new mother.  You need to convey that you are a committed employee worthy of your employer’s investment.  Each morning, we mamas walk out the door to work, leave our kiddos in someone else’s care, and do our best to make a difference in our workplaces.  Let’s hone our negotiation skills now, so that we and our families can be properly rewarded for our efforts.

For more practical advice on returning from maternity leave and navigating life as a working mama, join the next session of the Mindful Return course!

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