Women: How to get what you want at work

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(MoneyWatch) Ever wonder how the female executives who shatter the glass ceiling do it? Selena Rezvani, leadership consultant and author of "Pushback: How Smart Women Ask--and Stand Up--for What They Want," says that self-advocacy is key. In her book, she shares interviews with female CEOs and COOs from mega-companies like Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley and Bigelow Tea, and gets their take on this important topic. Here's some of what Rezvani uncovered:

MoneyWatch: What does "pushback" mean?

Selena Rezvani: In the context of the workplace, pushback represents the group of skills that allow us to take a stand, be firm, or advocate on our own behalf. It also encompasses our adeptness at advancing a cause, making a request, and persuading others of the merits of our view. We can use it to go after what we want (a raise, assignment or promotion), we can use it to defend what is ours (a budget, our team or a workplace initiative) and what we need (additional support staff or a more manageable workload).

MW: How important is pushing back?

SR: I asked female executives, "Assuming a woman's career success equals 100 percent, what percentage is accounted for by her effectiveness in negotiating and pushing back?" Averaging the twenty responses I heard, the answer was 60 percent; that's to say that 60 percent of a woman's career success hinges on her pushback skills -- holding her own, advocating her needs, and negotiating.

MW: What is the best advice you heard from these women?

SR: First, never capitulate too soon. While in a negotiation, get comfortable drawing out the conversation -- or even postponing it -- if need be rather than nodding your head in agreement or surrendering. Second, negotiate even if there's no precedent. For example, who cares, that no one else has ever asked for a phase-back return from maternity leave? Be the first. And finally, hear "no" as "not yet." Often the timing just wasn't right the first time so a second ask (timed better or under different circumstances) will do the trick.

MW: Do men naturally push back more?

SR: Yes. Men initiate negotiations 4 times more often than women do. This stems from the fact that men approach negotiations with more confidence than women and they set higher targets than women. While women may attempt to negotiate equitably -- so that the pie is split in half -- men tend to ask for a larger part of the pie.

MW: What do you consider the biggest myth about women in the workplace today?

SR: The biggest myth today is that men and women have achieved parity in the workplace. And yet, what hamstrings women at work today is far less overt than it used to be. Micro-inequities, those seemingly insignificant events that exclude women or lessen confidence in them, are far more rampant. Envision a department that's throwing a celebratory lunch to mark winning a new account. No one casts a suspicious eye when the young woman on the team is asked to order and fetch the food.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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