Why Women Need to Learn How to Negotiate

04/29/2015 01:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

When my business mentor told me I should do a webinar on negotiation skills for women, I panicked. Oh my God, I said, I don't know ANYTHING about negotiations!

Of course, that was a big fat lie.

I negotiate all the time - and so do you. If you've ever held a management position and asked for more resources, you've negotiated. If you have kids who want something extra, you've negotiated. If you've ever bought a car, you've negotiated. If you've ever hired a contractor, you've negotiated.

So why do we women freak out when we think of negotiations? It's because we've been taught to be nice, accommodating, agreeable, modest, sweet and easy-going. In the workplace, we feel if we talk about our accomplishments, it will come across as bragging. And too many of us believe that if we just work hard, we will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

Don't believe everything you think.

Imagine this: Two equally qualified people want a promotion to a top job. One person advocates for herself, talking about her accomplishments and her vision for the position and how she can take the company to the next level, with facts and passion to support her pitch. The other person sits back and waits to be elevated above the crowd.

Who do you think will get that position?

Especially in a big company, it is wishful - and dangerous - thinking to believe that a busy manager, with many direct reports, is going to be intimately familiar with the accomplishments of everyone in his department, or intuit that a particular employee is interested in a leadership position. It's like the wife who hopes and dreams of getting a special birthday gift, but never says anything - and then gets angry when her husband gives her a fancy vacuum cleaner instead.

Why is it important to know how to negotiate?

The female disadvantage: Women earn only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men - right off the top. To make matters worse, there is...

The Mommy Penalty: A recent study reported by the Harvard Business School showed that mothers were offered $11,000 less in salary when a group of interviewers was given the choice between an equally qualified man and woman. There was no pay disparity when the interviewers learned that the man had children.

The retirement pinch: Women with children on average spend about half the time in the workforce as men do. As a result, their retirement funds, Social Security benefits and pensions are commensurately less. Throw in the 50% divorce rate, add in women's longer lifespans and top it off with reduced widows' benefits and you come to the inescapable conclusion that a man is not a financial plan.

Women and poverty: Twice as many American women 65 and older live in poverty than men in the same age group. And more than 1 in 5 older single women live in poverty.

Clearly, women in the workforce need to advocate for themselves now - to negotiate better salaries, titles and benefits. And the sooner they learn those skills and put them to good use, the better.

But beyond the financial reasons why women need to learn negotiation skills, there are professional benefits, too. You will never advance very far - never even learn how far you can go - if you can't effectively advocate for yourself. And negotiation skills pay massive personal benefits, too, in improved self-esteem, ability to communicate clearly and think quickly on your feet; learning how to deal with rejection and bouncing back; schooling your emotions so they work for you instead of against you; and being persistent.

For those of us who are afraid of rejection, remember that "no" is not fatal. Heck, sometimes "no" isn't even "no" - just "not yet." There is a multitude of legitimate factors that could lead to a negative answer - budgetary, timing, growth plans - things you are completely unaware of but still come into play.

So don't give up, even if you're afraid. Be persistent. Don't take it personally. Stay connected and engaged, be useful and keep going!

When has negotiation worked for you? I'd love to hear!