Negotiating for the career, salary and working style that suits you is a vital life skill – and sadly something they don’t teach in college. But for women it presents some unique challenges. 

On the one hand, you’re unlikely to get what you want without directly asking for it (this goes for women and men). But despite the leaps and bounds we’ve taken to overcome gender stereotypes, research still shows that assertive women are seen as ‘aggressive’ or ‘intimidating’.

How can you strike the right balance as a woman in the tech industry?

Every individual and workplace will have their own nuances, but our research and experience can provide some guiding ‘dos’ and ‘dont’s’ for women negotiating at work.


Be confident in asking for what you want

Skirting around a topic can confuse the conversation and make your intentions unclear. While it might feel uncomfortable to talk about things like money or work flexibility, the best way to approach an awkward topic is head-on. 

You have a right to question things and ask for what you want. So the first step is to believe that yourself, and go into a conversation with confidence. If you don’t feel like you can do that, speaking to a career coach, trusted friend or mentor may help you shift your mindset.

Be very clear

What exactly do you want the desired outcome to be? Who will be responsible for initiating change? And what timeframe do you want to see this happen within?

Get crystal-clear on what you want and when you want it by. It may feel tempting to keep it vague – sidenote: women are 25 times more likely than men to not ask for a specific amount when seeking a pay increase – but leaving the details up to your employer may result in disappointment. Putting a time limit on the next steps can help you track progress, and provide a guide for your employer to work to.

Come prepared

Whether it’s a job interview, a performance review or a salary negotiation, not enough can be said for preparation. Don’t leap into a conversation without first nutting out what you’d like to achieve.

  • Consider your ‘big-picture’ vision and career goals.
  • Review your work values and how they’re being met.
  • Collect any data that will help validate your requests (i.e. performance data, KPIs)
  • Think about your negotiation style, and how you might utilize different techniques to achieve your goals. It may help to also consider what style your boss/HR team might use, so you can prepare responses in advance. 

Finally – give yourself a motivating pep talk before having the conversation. This is a vital piece of preparation you don’t want to miss!

Lean into your strengths

Negotiation talks can be a good opportunity to consider your strengths, and the value you bring to the workplace. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, ask some colleagues for their thoughts, or do a strengths test or personality test. (CliftonStrengths can provide some great insights.)


Take ethical shortcuts

Negotiation can be exciting! There’s nothing like the rush of adrenaline that comes with advocating for yourself. But don’t let the excitement get to you too much.

Exaggerating, adding unnecessary details, omitting information, or outright lying may do more harm than good – particularly if unethical behavior is exposed. Research shows that most people are willing to ‘cheat’ now and then in negotiations, so keeping the focus on mutually beneficial outcomes will mean you’re less tempted to take ethical shortcuts.

Allow emotions to take over

When emotions start bubbling up during a conversation, you may get swept up in it, make less rational decisions, and say things you don’t mean. If you find yourself getting upset or angry, consider taking a break to give yourself – and others – a chance to cool off.

The last thing you need is someone labeling you as ‘sensitive’ or ‘emotional’ (common biased assumptions about women in the workplace).

This can be tough, particularly when you’re discussing emotional topics. Try to remove yourself from the emotion and approach the negotiation like you would a client project.

Focus on ‘winning’

A competitive style of negotiation can be successful in some scenarios, but more often than not you’ll experience greater support from your workplace when you focus discussions on mutually beneficial outcomes. Win-win.

Talk about the ‘value’ of your suggestions, rather than what you’re ‘entitled’ to. Explain how a positive outcome for you will benefit the company too. For example, working from home may help you get more deep, focused work done for them. 

Panic if it’s not going your way

You may not resolve issues in one sitting. Negotiations are sometimes an ongoing discussion, requiring several breaks and time to think in between. Stay calm if you don’t land on a solution immediately.

Panic can lead to getting emotional, saying things you don’t mean, and losing sight of what you’re trying to achieve. If you feel the conversation going in circles or becoming unproductive, put it on hold and come back to it another time. Taking a break and doing some more research and prep may put you in better stead for Round 2.

What to do if it doesn’t go your way

If your workplace can’t be persuaded or won’t agree to your terms, don’t see it as a failure. Instead:

  1. Take a deep breath – Before disappointment and anxiety sets in, congratulate yourself for starting the negotiation process to begin with. This is a huge step!
  2. Reframe ‘failure’ as ‘learning – Reflect on how you could’ve framed your arguments differently and what you’d do differently next time.
  1. Check in with your cheer squad – A supportive mentor or career advocate can help you bounce back, plan your next move, and turn this into a learning opportunity.
  2. Consider if the outcome was fair or not – If you think the result was unreasonable, look at your options. Your next move might be trying again in future, escalating your request, or looking for a new work opportunity (trust us – your skills are needed elsewhere!).

Negotiation can be daunting. But it can be exciting too. Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you have difficult conversations and stand up for yourself, the easier it will get over the course of your career.

Find more ways to develop your soft skills and build your career confidence by keeping an eye on the Girls in Tech Academy. (More personal development courses are coming soon!)