How do you feel about money?
I think it is a great enabler of freedom and I am incredibly grateful for that. My relationship with money is very great now, in the past it has been much more difficult. But right now, I just see it as a massive positive. In my personal life and for my clients I just see it as a means to freedom. A means of doing the things that are important to you, living your life the way you want to live it.
You started a company to fight the gender pay gap. Have you ever experienced wage inequality yourself?
In my first job at a large law firm I didn’t negotiate my salary although I became a lawyer to negotiate all day. So you would expect that I did negotiate. But I didn’t. I had no idea that I could and that I had to. At the time I was just very grateful for the opportunity to work.
How did that change?
Later, I found out that most of the people in my peer group were earning more. And I realized that this was not because they were better at what they were doing. It was simply because they had asked. I am a very principled person, so I thought that was wrong. And I found out that it was not just me. Other women across the board were struggling with the same issue. So yes, I have experienced wage inequality myself as well as the negative consequences of it.
What do you mean?
It wasn’t about the number. I was still earning a pile of money. I had a very good salary even though I was paid less than my co-workers. It wasn’t the number but what they communicated with that number. They were basically saying: We don’t value your work as much as we value the work of others. This is a pattern that I see for a lot of my clients. It hardly ever is the number itself. It’s what they are communicating with that number.
How did you deal with it? Did you negotiate your salary once you realized this injustice?
I did start the conversation. But there were more issues with me working there. It was the whole environment that wasn’t good for me. They didn’t appreciate me and my qualities, they just focused on everything that I couldn’t do. There wasn’t a match between the company and me. But the financial aspect definitely was a driver for leaving the company not too long after finding out I was paid less than most of my co-workers.
What was your personal most successful wage negotiation?
I negotiated every single salary afterwards, and I did so very succesfully. We moved to Asia after this law firm story ended. I was offered a job by a company that suggested a salary that really wasn’t working for me for the role that it was supposed to be. I had some other opportunities too, so I was able to negotiate. I increased my salary by 35 percent and was given a different title, so the whole scope of the job changed. When I transfered from Asia to Europe with the same company, I negotiated my salary again which lead to another drastic increase. So I’ve done it for myself and at the time 35 percent seemed like a great increase for me. Nowadays it is less than the average that my clients get. For them the average is 49 percent with outliers much higher than that. Recently I did a quick check of the last ten clients that got salary increases and the avarege increase was at 95.2 percent, which is insane in my opinion.
What was the catalyst for you to start WIN Women in Negotiation?
WIN is bringing together my experience as a negotiator with the HR experience that I gained in Asia. It really combines those two assets with the fact that I am a massive feminist. I have two daughters and I really want to have a different world for them. I believe that the gender pay gap is an insult to our intelligence and needs to be eradicated sooner rather than later. In my role in HR I was responsible for recruitment and training. The training part meant that I also ran trainings myself. And one subject I knew more about than other people was negotiation, so I used to run these trainings across the world. It was standard that I would have a little circle of women around me at the end of the training and they would all say the same thing: «This is really important and I really suck at it.» So it took me a while but then I realized…this is a big problem.
What did you do next?
I jumped into research, because I started thinking: Is it just the people that I know or is this a wider problem? Research showed me that this is a global issue and a worldwide phenomenon. And also that the new generations are struggling with it more than the older generations. Which is surprising but us women actually get worse at negotiating. So I thought: That’s it. I am going to end this. I mean I am not ending it, but it is my dream to at least be a driving force in ending it. I want all women in the world to negotiate their worth.
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How did you start your company? Where did the start-up capital come from?
There was very little funding needed because ultimately it is consulting . I was a lawyer, so I didn’t know much about starting a business. I did a coaching program in marketing and sales that was funded by my mother. I told her that I wanted to do this program but I didn’t have the money since I was paying for mortgages and kids in international schools. My mother then said: «Alright, I am going to lend this to you.» Fortunately, I was able to pay it back very quickly because the business did very well right from the start. Until now, there is no outside investment. Everything that I have managed to achieve has been self-funded.
Why is it especially difficult for women to talk about money and to negotiate?
Men and women are raised very differently and this is why negotiating is so difficult for women and so easy for men. Men are raised to be competitive and to always be sort of thinking: What’s my place in the hierarchy? While we are cool if boys show their powers, girls get raised to connect with others, to communicate with others and to be at the same level with others. If my daughter gets into fights with her friends during playdates, they stop playing. For the boys on the other hand that is when they start to play. I see a connection to money here.
For men, money and what they are earning it is a metric of how they score in the hierarchy. That probably makes it easier for them to talk about money. Whereas for women discussing what you are earning can lead to that «putting your head above the parapet». If you are earning a lot more than your friend, that could be uncomfortable between you two. This potentially negatively affects the relationship, and we don’t want that. For the negotiation part that also means we can’t stand up for ourselves. Women are more focused on other rather than on themselves. Asking something for yourself rather than for others is where we struggle.
Does that mean women are bad at negotiating?
No, we are not bad negotiators! We don’t struggle with negotiating at all except when it is for ourselves. When we have to ask for our co-workers, for our boss or our kids, it's not a problem. If we have to ask for ourselves, it is very much a problem though. For men, that particular request «I want more salary» allows them to move up in the hierarchy and they are very happy about that. And we expect and accept that of them. If a woman does that and says: «I can do that, I am worth it, I want this», we don’t like it because we are not used to it. Wee have internal barriers telling us that it is freaking uncomfortable to negotiate for ourselves. But we also have these external barriers mainly that when we do negotiate, we aren’t seen in the same way as if men negotiate.
So should women negotiate differently than men?
We have to do it differently. If we show up the same way men do, we get penalized for it. There is interesting research about this. If women conduct negotiations using the same words and the same body language as men, they get perceived harshly. Therefore, as a woman you need to have these conversations in a different way if you want to be effective and get the results that you want. We should utilize and leverage the qualities that make us such good negotiators.
What are these qualities?
As a world we are moving into the direction of win-win-outcomes. Way back in the days it was all about who is the stronger party, who has more power. That is no longer the case. In business and in politics we are moving towards a world that is all about win-win-outcomes that satisfy both parties. In order too get a win-win-outcome, you need good listening, you need empathy, you need connection and relationship, collaboration, communication – all the qualities that us women are naturally better at because we have been raised to have those skills. Therefore it’s very logical that we are on average better negotiators than men. The only difference that we need to make is that we leverage those skills for ourselves as well.
How does that work?
The change that needs to happen has two sides: On the one hand we need to work on our confidence and our ability to say: «Yes, I want to. Yes, I deserve this.» That is a very internal process, it is deep and hard work. On the other hand there is the skillset, the competence, to navigate that process in a way that gets results. Skills that get the other side to say: «Oh hallelujah, this woman is good. Yes, we need her.» Instead of: «She is a bit arrogant, she wants a bit too much.» e need to work on the confidence to aim high and expect a lot and the competence to know how to ask for it in the right way.
So I guess this is what you teach women in your training?
Yes, exactly. But there is a third component, which is creating clarity about what you want. You don’t drift to success. You don’t randomly end up where you want to go. Often, women don’t even know what they should get paid or what they want exactly in terms of role or set-up. And if you don’t know what you want - you are not gonna get it.
Do you observe any differences between Switzerland and other countries in terms of attitudes towards money?
I don’t think the attitude towards money is different but I do think that the attitude towards women and careers is different. I will simply refer back to the article that was published on elleXX from Alexandra Dufresne about the issues surrounding women and their carriers in beautiful Switzerland. I love the country so much but there is so much work to do when it comes to female empowerment! I won’t be repeating what Alexandra wrote so accurately in her goodbye letter to Switzerland. But I recognized every single sentence she wrote.
What advice do you have for women who work in the low-wage sector and may not be able to negotiate wages at all?
I work mainly with women that work in white collar jobs where you have more opportunities to negotiate. What I will say to women in lower wage set ups is that even though their salary often it is more regulated that doesn’t mean that they cannot negotiate. Everything is negotiable. To a large extent It depends on your power in the conversation though. How much do they need you? As long as you don’t see the value that you are providing yourself or if you don’t know how to communicate that is what makes it difficult to negotiate.
What should these women pay attention to?
Especially for women in low wage roles it is important to realize that losing you is expensive for the company. It costs a company between 100 and 400 percent of your annual salary to have you replaced in terms of the down time between you and the next person, the recruiting and the training, like I explain more elaborately in my TedX talk. So it is very expensive to replace you. This realization can be helpful for your negotiation. But ultimately your ability to succeed at a job depends really on whether the employer can see what asset you are to the business.
Do you talk about money privately in women's groups?
Yes, I think I have gotten a lot more comfortable with that. And it is an important part, so with entrepreneurial friends I have become a lot more comfortable to talk about money. With my other friends I feel pretty comfortable already but there is probably still a lot of room for improvement. It really does all start with transparency. I personally don’t find it easy to discuss money yet.
I am very good at discussing how you can make more money. And I generally enjoy speaking about money. But as soon as it gets personal and you can connect numbers to people I have noticed the same structures in me that I warn others from.
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For example, as part of my program I advise all my clients to talk to people in similar roles about their salaries. And I always advise them to be very indirect. Don’t ask: «What do you earn?» Because people don’t find that comfortable. So instead tell them what you have found through online research and share it and simply ask: «Does that resonate? Do you recognize that? Does that work for you?» And then often you end up with a conversation where people do share what they are making. This is a conversation that people are much more happy to be having and I noticed the same thing in myself.
Who talked to you about money at home and what attitudes about money were you taught?
Money wasn’t an easy subject. Although we lived in a very affluent area in the country, my parents didn’t have a lot of money. So if anything money was a source of stress. I have done a lot of work improving my relationship and had to do a lot of work in that respect. I feel grateful every single day that I don’t need to worry about money anymore.
Do you have a guiding principle about money and what do you teach your children?
Two things are very important to me. My fear in life was raising two spoiled kids. And I am very focused on that and so I teach them gratitude every single day.
The other piece is that I want them to be very mindful and smart about money. To be intentional that they have agency in this matter and the agency comes through negotiations. So I guess what I am hoping to do is to teach them to find balance between being grateful for what they have and on the other hand to use that privilege to do some good in this world for themselves but also for others. This is what I try to do with my company WIN too. I try to do good for the world and I am also doing well for myself through my work.