Sitting in the Discomfort: Takeaways from the Gather & Reddit Negotiation Panel
I walked away from Gather’s June 2019 event on a high from the evening’s energy. Women from all over the world came together to discuss what equitable and fair representation looks like. As I processed the evening over the next few days, one thing stuck out to me: the idea of discomfort. “Sit in it,” said Melody Meckfessel, co-founder of ObservableHQ, as she discussed how we could help both ourselves and others, by pushing back on the norms that make us uncomfortable. Discomfort is something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to coming into the evening, instead thinking about advocation strategies, pro-self articulation tactics, the importance of a well-researched position.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the two go hand in hand. The diligent research and preparation of your position going into a negotiation is, as our panelists emphasized, critical to achieving your goals. But equally important is putting yourself out there, climbing up to the top of that mountain, whatever your mountain may be, and holding strong. You know your value better than anyone, and while coming to the table assured in that knowledge can be uncomfortable, it’s also impactful, and creates a space for actionable change.
This isn’t to say you should be putting yourself in a position during a negotiation where you are past your safety threshold. In making her point, Melody emphasized the importance of going back to your boundaries, checking in with yourself, and setting up what you are and are not okay with. Maybe for you that looks like asking for a 10% raise, a stake in your company’s equity, or compensation for your commute. Or, maybe it looks like mapping out a promo advocacy, which as Alex Riccominni, Sr. Director of Business Development & Media Partnerships at Reddit pointed out, sets you up for a promotion down the line if it doesn’t gain any traction when you first put it out there. Maybe, it’s the suggestion, as introduced by Rachel Fishbein Esq., of figuring out what your organization needs, so that when you come to the table you present as an engaged team player.
I would encourage you to think about what your boundaries look like, and explore how comfortable you feel pushing back on them. For me, my boundaries revolve around my value. They rest at an uncomfortable junction of being proud of the education and research that has shaped what I have done so far in life, and the insistent feeling that my age and gender discredit my capabilities. Diligent research has shown me that the statistics backup my current perception. Harvard Business Review estimates that women are routinely paid 10-20% less than their male counterparts for the same work and All Raise, a women’s organization dedicated to leveling out the tech and VC playing field, found that only 11% of all venture capitalists in the US are women, women who routinely receive significantly less funding. Professor Linda Babcock at Carnegie Mellon University, found that in a study of 78 masters candidates only 12.5% of women negotiated for their starting salary versus 52% of men, leading to a potential of 1.5 million dollars in losses over the course of each woman’s career. I have looked at these statistics and felt unmotivated to do anything, let alone define my boundaries or quantify my value for the negotiation table. But...and there is a big but...we are in an age of pushback. People are looking at the statistics and instead of remaining silent, they are becoming willing to sit in the uncomfortable. Among them, all of us at this event.
Melody Meckfessel shared another piece of wisdom which applies well here. She said “stretch yourself to ask.” And, referenced comparing negotiation to a muscle we are constantly building, and encouraged us to get uncomfortable, a critical prerequisite to creating change for ourselves and for others.
There are a lot of strategies to do this, including utilizing the resources the panelists recommended like getraised.com, and Strengths Finder. It could also be as simple as writing out a list, repeating it to yourself in the mirror, or role playing. I personally do the Super Hero pose. Do I feel a little silly? Yes, but I also walk into whatever and whoever I am meeting with confidence and strength.
I would encourage you to do some research, in whichever medium works for you, to define your own worth and your own boundaries. And then, I would encourage you to push back. The next time I walk up to the negotiation table, I will push back on the expectations that have been set up for me before I enter the room. I will stand up for my value as a tangible, real thing. I will stand by the legitimacy of the experiences which have shaped my skill set. I am willing to get uncomfortable.
Post by Kaelin Hickford
Executive Leadership, Gather Women’s Social Club