International Women’s Day 2021: How female accountants can embrace their negotiating power

8th Mar 2021
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This International Women's Day, take a look at the research from Harvard Business School on negotiations and gender triggers, and how women in accounting can use the findings in their practice.

Ambiguity creates gender imbalance in negotiations

"Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it." Maya Angelou

When researching her book, Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock found that just 7% of women tried to negotiate for their starting salary after a job offer. And research from Harvard Business School showed that expectations can have a large part to play in those negotiations when they do happen. When the researchers looked at the reasons for the discrepancy, they discovered that preparation was key. In highly competitive fields, it seems that ambiguity can trigger traditional gender expectations – in short, men are more comfortable in asking for more when there is no precedent or evidence that more is available.

Countering gender triggers in negotiations

“Life is like accounting, everything must be balanced.” Unknown

Of course, there is no reason behaviour in a salary negotiation should be gendered. The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #ChooseToChallenge.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. International Women's Day 2021

For accountants in practice, there are many negotiations outside of wages to navigate. When talking with potential new clients, you will be talking about fees. The lessons learned in the Harvard Business School study can apply in this situation, as you should always be aiming to win clients at a rate that is fair to your skills and experience.

  1. Work to counter gender triggers: Keep in mind that you are usually not just negotiating for yourself, but on behalf of your practice, colleagues and future job security. The Harvard study showed that female executives who acted as a mentor – that is, negotiating on behalf of another person – secured 18% higher compensation.
  2. Research your marketplace: You should be aware of what the going rate is for the work your prospective client requires from you.
  3. Articulate your performance: When negotiating with a new client, you can reduce the ambiguity that creates gender triggers by setting your own parameters. That means you can have the conversation around fees with more confidence that you are putting a price on what you can achieve.

Women taking charge

"Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying." Amelia Earhart

Women now make up 32% of business owners in the UK. For many accountants, starting their own practice represents freedom to do things their own way, from hiring to finding new clients, from managing their hours to choosing their software. It also gives females in business the power to set their worth and make the most of the mentor role that levels the playing field during negotiations.

Levelling the negotiation

For women in accounting, there are multiple challenges when it comes to negotiations. Whether you’re starting out and looking for a fair remuneration package, or going it alone in the hunt for success, everyone has a part to play in levelling negotiations.

Male or female, you can help your female colleagues in negotiations by creating transparency around remuneration and benefits; by demystifying what is on offer related to performance, there is less ambiguity and a level playing field for all.

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