Gender Judo: Salary Negotiation Tactics For Women

Are good girls ambitious? Flip gender expectations on their head with these salary negotiation moves.

Laurianne McLaughlin, Editor-in-Chief,

July 24, 2014

6 Min Read

It's not your imagination. Women face greater risk of backlash when they ask for more during salary negotiations. The same negotiation tactics may be labeled "aggressive" for men, but "pushy" for women. What can women do to turn traditional gender norms to their advantage during salary and job negotiations? I just learned a powerful new phrase that I hope will help you: Gender Judo.

I learned this phrase from my guest Tuesday on InformationWeek Radio, Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California's Hastings College of the Law, and author of eight books including What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Every Woman Should Know. She's been researching for decades on gender workplace issues, including negotiations. [ Listen to the archived version of our discussion here.]

As she told our audience via online chat following the broadcast, you must understand some societal dynamics, for starters. "Remember that from the employer's standpoint, things would be just peachy if no one ever asked for a promotion or more money," she said. "It's just that people accept that 'real men' will be competitive, and will see money as a natural metric for who's winning -- for men. Sometimes people think women don't care. Weird, but true."

Often the reason women don't ask -- or don't ask for more -- is that they sense politically the request will backfire. (I have a friend who went through negotiation backlash twice recently; it is no myth.) Here's where gender judo can help.

"Gender judo is doing a masculine thing in a feminine way," Williams told our audience. Negotiating hard for a salary is seen as masculine because is it is "natural" for any bright man to be ambitious, while women are expected to be more modest and self-effacing, she says. Try these gender judo moves, she advises:

1. Negotiate for a higher salary but give a communal reason for it.
Use language along the lines of "I really need this as my salary requirement and the reason is I am sending an important message to my team that..." Women are expected to be team players, and this approach makes it less about you and more about your team, Williams said.

2. Try the trusted adviser approach.
"This is the salary I need and my mentor stressed to me how important it was to be up front with you about my value to the company." You're being a good girl, following the directions of your mentor, Williams said.

You must be smart about how and when you use these moves, of course. You may be talking to male bosses in an environment that expects you to act just like the men -- and if so, no need for gender judo. Also, don't use these moves if they feel forced or fake, because you must project confidence, Williams said.

Gender judo also works outside salary negotiations, in other business settings that present different societal expectations for men and women, Williams says -- such as tooting your own horn and delivering critiques.

You can even use it to avoid the "b" word that rhymes with witch, she said.

"My gender judo is that I use my ability to connect with people," Williams said. "I send them the message that I'm attuned to the fact that they're not that enthusiastic about hearing this, and that I'm willing to talk through [that] with them ... People expect women to attend to emotions."

You're trying to be direct and assertive and "all those masculine things," she said, "but send the message, if it's necessary, that you understand that there are certain social expectations of women ... It's not best that you're clueless."

Intrigued? Listen in for more on these seven additional power tips from Williams for negotiating and navigating gender landmines at work:

  • Talk to recruiters whenever they call, whether you are looking or not. You should be talking to every recruiter -- not misleading them, but finding out what you can command on the open market.

  • Talk to men and not just women about salary levels, otherwise you may skew your estimates.

  • Develop a "posse" of peers at work who can sing your praises for you (look mom, no arrogance), plus give you information about how much people in your current job and potential target jobs earn.

  • Avoid classic negotiation mistake #1: Don't apologize. Go in knowing what you are worth on the market. "You're not asking anybody to do you a favor," Williams said.

  • Avoid classic negotiation mistake #2: Practice. We all have that "quaking 14-year old" inside somewhere, she said, so practice with a friend, mentor, or several people. You don't want to be arrogant, but you do want to project credibility.

  • If your promotion or raise request doesn't work, go back a second time. "No is often the first step in the process of getting to yes," Williams told our audience.

  • But, know when to say when. "A good rule of thumb is the Rule of Three. Don't leave the first time this happens; it happens to everybody. Go to your manager and say, 'I want to make sure I am doing everything I need to be doing in order to be in a position to be promoted next time around.' Then take notes, do it, and check in to make sure your supervisor thinks you are doing it. If you don't get promoted the second time round, check back in. If you've done all that and still no promotion, you're getting a strong message," she said.

Want more great advice? Listen to the whole broadcast, on replay here. If you are in security, please also listen to the replay of Breaking The Glass Ceiling In InfoSec, a recent radio show on our sister site Dark Reading.

And if you haven't already, dig into InformationWeek's 2014 Salary Survey. We have data on IT roles, vertical industries, and geographies.

When you try out the gender judo moves, email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear that a bunch of you pinned down success.

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About the Author(s)

Laurianne McLaughlin


Laurianne McLaughlin currently serves as's Editor-in-Chief, overseeing daily online editorial operations. Prior to joining InformationWeek in May, 2011, she was managing editor at Her writing and editing work has won multiple ASBPE (American Society of Business Publication Editors) awards, including ASBPE's 2010 B2B Web Site of the year award for Previously, McLaughlin served as a senior editor, online for Business 2.0 and as a senior editor for PC World, where she started her technology journalism career in 1992 as a news reporter. She is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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