Let Them Say No: Easy methods to Get What You Need From Your Employer
I recently spoke to a friend who was considering a promotion, but she wasn’t sure she should. We talked it all through – all the pros and cons (she had long lists for both of them) – and then without thinking I blurted out, “What would you do if you were white?”
Yes, another article to remind women that if you don’t ask for something, they probably won’t get it. What is different now, however, is that studies show employers get confused: 88 percent of executives say they face a higher than usual turnover rate, and over 60 percent acknowledge that wages (41 percent) or benefits ( 23 percent) the reasons for the employees are abandoned. Combined with the terrifying number of women who left the workforce during the pandemic, employers are heavily focused on retaining women. So if you’ve been waiting for the right moment to ask, now is that moment.
Easy enough right? Not correct. The next steps are big:
Figure out what you want.
While we like to view the pandemic as an exposure of new injustices, in many cases it has exposed inequalities that we already knew about. Working parents, for example, did not suddenly realize that it was difficult to balance success at work with raising other people; we already knew that. But as coworkers watched tiny coworkers keep popping up on Zoom calls and parents starting to raise a little more openly, it became even more clear that this is not an easy task. There was a collective realization that many of us, especially working mothers, are not getting what we need from our employers to lead our best lives. What might you want to change about your job to make life easier? Work-life balance may be difficult to achieve, but the seesaw doesn’t have to be tilted all the way in one direction.
Recent survey data suggests some areas where employees are making demands:
· Raise: Women, and BIPOC women in particular, still earn significantly less than their male counterparts (this year the Equal Pay Day for Black women was set at August 3rd, which indicates how many days black women should have worked so much before 2021 like men in 2020). It might just be time to ask for that raise.
· Better benefits: Good health insurance is essential, but it is no longer enough. Faced with the growing psychological crisis, staff are asking for help, including access to coaching and therapy. Working parents need support throughout their parenting journey – from fertility, to supportive care for babies and younger children, to online courses that can involve and support their school-age learners, and guidance on how to apply or pay for college. Parents are an incredibly important asset to any business (did you know 40 percent of working parents are managers?) And the benefits they offer should reflect that.
· flexibility: This can include setting your own working hours, choosing whether to work from home, working remotely or hybrid, reducing your working hours, job sharing or the ability to change shifts more easily. Just because it “worked” before (most likely because you moved mountains to make it work) doesn’t mean it works for you anymore.
· Career advancement: Motherhood often leads not only to lower wages, but also to an associated slowdown in career growth and progress. Women are increasingly demanding more opportunities for growth – and those that fit into their lives and tasks at home.
Make a plan.
Many find it uncomfortable to ask about something, and we have developed our own unique ways to prepare for these conversations. There are a few proven strategies and practices that will help you prepare for the question.
· Know what you want. Many managers have a bias to action and want you to bring them not only the problem but the proposed solution as well. If you tell your manager you are burned out, you need to resolve the problem. Telling them that you are burned out and having ideas on how to deal with it not only takes the strain off them, but also gives you the opportunity to come up with a solution that suits your needs. Find out about your options (check out the advantages with competitors, talk to friends at other companies, or get insights from organizations like the Parents in Tech Alliance). Read articles about what other companies are doing and think about what yours could do. Instead of making a list of all possible options, come up to your manager with the options you think will work best for you.
· Think about what is likely. It’s a difficult balance at times: you don’t want to negotiate against yourself or ask for what you want, but you also know that craving the impossible can undermine credibility in an early conversation. Once you have your wish list, put yourself in the shoes of your manager and think, “What would we need to change to make this happen?” If you bring along not only your wishes, but also how you think the company could do it , you have the upper hand – and can give your manager another reason to appreciate your contributions. After all, you know how to get things done.
· Write it down. Sweaty palms, flushed faces, and a suddenly empty brain are commonplace when we get nervous, and it can be difficult to clearly articulate what we want when a conversation is emotionally charged. List the main things you would like to say, including any data or evidence you would like to bring to the conversation. Even if you can communicate via Zoom and can’t secretly look down, writing helps, and having access to your notes while you talk is a bonus.
· Practice it. It’s not for everyone, but practicing with a friend or even alone can help you enter your discussion with more confidence. It can calm your nerves and calm your voice. Going through it a few times before the big talk will make it a lot easier when the stakes are higher.
Ask about it.
You did most of the hard work – now it’s up to you to ask what you want. Take a deep breath and remember: You have it!
· Do a power pose. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy recommends a two-minute exercise to prepare for anything: find a private room and get into a power pose. She recommends a Wonder Woman (legs wide, hands on hips) or raising your arms in a V shape with your chin up. You will be surprised how different you will feel just by changing your posture.
· Stay focused. You know why you asked for the meeting and what you want from it. Stick to the points you want to address and get it on you as much as possible. Tell your own truth and try to stay away from things like “many of us feel” or “other women told me”. If so, you are solving for yourself and want to focus the conversation on your own needs.
· Submit a follow up. Take some time to think about how your discussion went, then send a quick email summarizing what you asked for and where you ended up. Make sure you capture any action items or next steps and answer any open questions. If you can, agree on a schedule for possible changes – you don’t want something at the top of your needs list to end up at the bottom of someone else’s to-do list.
Employers today are realizing that they need to change in order to keep their teams. According to a recent study, 65 percent of employees said they were thinking about new opportunities. It’s a scary proposition for all of us, and employers in particular. The cost of sales is higher than ever, and while some companies are slower to address systemic change, we know that cultural change becomes even less likely if individuals don’t ask about what we need. So go ahead, go ahead: the only way to get what you want is to ask for it. Give your employer the chance to say no; although they are much more likely to say yes.
Amy Yamner Jenkins is Head of Schools and Distribution for Outschool. She has worked in a variety of education backgrounds for the past 20 years: as a middle school teacher in Oakland, as a provider of extracurricular programs in San Francisco, as an investor through the NewSchools Venture Fund, and most recently as COO and advisor to school districts through Education Elements. Amy is a frequent speaker at educational conferences including SXSWEdu, INACOL, and ASCD, and has authored several publications. She has an AB from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She lives in California and has two spirited daughters.