A woman’s value
When I was going through my divorce I had to value, in financial terms, my contribution to the marriage. It was a deeply distressing experience. Until that moment, I had never really confronted a woman’s relationship to money in the world. I was forced to realise the emotional work women do in a family, had very little financial value. In fact, in a divorce settlement, I was shocked to find, a woman is not regarded as an independent economic unit.
In a personal relationship, this is only becomes an obvious problem if you want to separate your finances, although this is something that happens with increasing frequency. Even If a woman has property in her own name, in a marriage settlement everything is up for grabs. She will have to be ready to make a powerful case for why she deserves to walk away with a fair proportion of what is in the joint pot. And here we have it, at this point women are often ill equipped to negotiate their way through the confused assumptions upon which the institution of marriage is based.
How it impacts in a work situation
This situation not surprisingly, is reflected at work, where the confusion about how to value your contribution as a woman is equally uncertain. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, throughout the 19th Century women were little more than slaves, being considered the property of their husbands. It is only since 1893 that women have been allowed to keep their own property on marriage and subsequently in divorce. They weren’t able to vote or have free education until 1918 and incredibly, only in 1975 was the Sexual Discrimination Act and Equal Pay Act to finally outlawed discrimination against women seeking to obtain goods and services, including loans and credit cards.
Although things have improved considerably, it is against this historical backdrop of the limiting aspects of the institution of marriage, attitudes towards education, and their political rights that women operate, out in the world. It is not surprising that they feel uncertain about how their requests for financial recognition will be received. Of course there are those women who have been far less affected by this historical perspective because they have been brought up with an actively alternative view of what is possible in marriage and in the work place. It is often a surprise to them when they start to notice how many women around them hold themselves back.
What can we do?
When it comes to talking about money, with women, the issues are around valuing themselves and their capabilities in financial terms. We ofetn don’t know where to begin
Luckily it is only a question of practice, the more we do it the easier it becomes. I see this as a growth issue. If we were routing for our daughters who were underpaid single parents I suspect we would be pretty hot on them learning the necessary skills to get themselves the best deal. Similarly men with daughters who have just entered the job market there is a sudden consciousness raising that springs into action! This is just practical knowledge you need when you are out in the world earning an honest crust.
Despite this cultural straight jacket there is still room for women to manoeuvre. Once we have taken on board that although it will always feel counter cultural, we are more than capable of learning the skills and with incremental practice, can become quite proficient. However, it's probably advisable to think carefully about how you want to go about making a financial case for something you want to achieve.
A useful strucrure
There are a number of publications that address this area and there are a couple I would recommend: From a woman’s point of view, Ask for it by Linda Babcock and Sara Lachever and for negotiating on a large scale with both an American and British perspective, Getting More by Stuart Diamond. Stuart Diamond is a renowned negotiator at an American University. He has created a comprehensive structure which helps you prepare for any kind of negotiation exhaustively, advocating a very creative approach. Both books have lots of examples and encouragement to go to the next level in a manageable way. See Stuart Diamonds Negotiating Structure below.
If you use this comprehensive structure to prepare for any important negotiation you are guaranteed to get better results. And with familiarity, these results will continue to improve as you begin to question some of your own ingrained attitudes by being better informed and logically working through a considered strategy
There is no question that women can learn these skills, there are many in the financial services sector and elsewhere where women routinely negotiate excellent deals on behalf of their organsations. The real challenge is believing that they deserve to negotiate on their own behalf. Being comfortable talking about and asking for money is probably the biggest stumbling block that women face when it comes to being taken seriously at executive level so my advice is get completely comfortable about who you are , what you contribute and the difference it makes. Then you will understand what it is worth and be able to ask for suitable reward.