Get It Girl: 3 Key Strategies for Negotiation as a Woman in Engineering


Negotiation is challenging. And sad but true, women are less likely to enter a negotiation when starting a new position or asking for that raise for two main reasons:

And we wonder why there is a gender pay gap…

Negotiating your contract with a potential employer, asking for a raise, or dealing with contractors or clients on terms or budgets are all likely negotiations in which you, as a young engineer, might find yourself. In such situations, you may wonder what the best approaches are to reach an optimal solution for everyone.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Paul Nash, who worked as a mediator in Toronto for a large part of his career. I also attended a talk from Fotini Iconomopoulos, who is a negotiation coach, consultant, and professor at the Schulich School of Business. These talks got me thinking of the basic skills we need when it comes to negotiation, and how those skills can specifically be applied in the engineering workplace.

Here are a few steps to prepare for a negotiation to get what you really want:

  1. Know yourself

  2. Do your research

  3. Prepare alternatives

1. Know Yourself

First, you should reflect on your personal approach to negotiation. Understanding your objectives and your personality can help identify a style that will work best for you and the problem you want to solve. You may lean toward one of these: competitive, collaborative, compromising, accommodating or avoiding.

Competitive: You have a firm stance, you know what you want and won’t give up for any reasons. The situation is a clear win-lose.

Collaborative: You are assertive and cooperative, you believe a mutually beneficial result can happen.

Compromising: You want to satisfy everyone and may lose out on some benefits for yourself to maintain the relationship.

Accommodating: You let the other side have their way at the expense of your own needs. The relationship is more valuable than winning what you set out for.

Avoiding: You would rather crawl under your desk and avoid asking altogether. You lose by not asking.

2. Do Your Research

Knowledge is power and that phrase definitely applies here. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • Is what you are asking for reasonable?

  • Who is your audience?

  • Is there another issue that may be competing with yours?

  • What can the other side afford to do for you?

  • What pressures are they facing?

  • Why do they need you?

Personally, I haven’t negotiated any specific contracts at work, but because I work for many project managers (sometimes 4 to 5 at a time), I do have to negotiate how my time is utilized and which projects are prioritized in a given week. In order to do my research, I check in with my project managers (PMs) on a weekly basis and I use these meetings as an opportunity to ask lots and lots of questions. For example, some of these questions will be focused externally.

  • What are the client’s needs?

  • What are upcoming milestones in the project?

  • What pressures are they facing as a PM for the client?

  • Will they have to present this report to City Council?

My next set of questions will be focused on my internal PM.

  • What other projects are they working on right now?

  • What are their expectations for me to complete this work?

  • Can I assign some tasks to others if I have limited time?

  • When do they need to review the work by?

My last questions are for me.

  • Do I think I can reasonably do the work that has been assigned to me?

  • How many meetings or field visits do I have in the upcoming week?

  • Can I negotiate a deadline with any other projects?

  • Can I work longer hours this particular week to get things done?

Once you have a better sense of the problem from multiple perspectives, the next step is brainstorming options for consideration at the negotiation table.

3. Prepare Alternatives

There are two main tools for preparing alternatives, and the best negotiators use both.Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers (MESO) is a strategy where you prepare a few options that are similar in value but may be more important to the other party. Offering choices is a good way to make the other party feel like they have some power without you giving up anything that really matters to you.

One example of this is a job offer where a potential employer provides a selection of packages that cost her the same thing but may provide you with the flexibility to choose more vacation or higher salary. These options cost her the same amount but you may have a personal preference that leads to mutually beneficial agreement.

Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is negotiation jargon for having a solid Plan B. If you have a good Plan B(ATNA) you will be less likely to accept an unfavourable deal. A BATNA is not your ideal outcome- but it sets some standards by setting when. What deal would you be satisfied in accepting? Would you be able to achieve a better outcome without entering negotiation?

For example, you want a job with a salary of $55K. Depending on the job, you may accept a job offer with a salary of $50K as your lower acceptable limit. If the negotiated offer is lower than $50K, your BATNA would be to continue looking for another job.

Go out and get it!

These three strategies are simply starting points into the art and science of successful negotiation. If you would like to learn more about negotiation, resources such as Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury and Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss are great references.

Remember that the best way to get what you want is by being prepared, reading the situation and having a repertoire of responses. Practice all your possible outcomes before you approach the situation and have a BATNA so you are always in control. And last but not least, don't let likability cloud your judgment. There is nothing wrong with asking for what you want and the worst thing that can happen is not asking at all!

Have you been in a situation where you negotiated successfully? What were your tactics and experiences? Please share with us below!