The Nice Girl's Guide to Getting Ahead

06 May 2013

Sights set on a promotion but unsure how to snag it? Dream of extra dirhams but don't dare ask? You're not alone. We show you how to win at work

Sometimes it feels like we just can’t win: too nice at work and you get walked all over, too dominant and you’ll hear the office gossip muttering the ‘B’ word as you pass by the water dispenser. “I find the underlying reason women find it difficult to ask for what they want at work is that they think of their requests as being a reward or a gift,” says Rania Anderson, Founder and President of Dubai-based career site The Way Women Work ( “In contrast, men view negotiating for compensation and other wants as their right and their entitlement.”

If you’ve spent your career days maintaining that ‘good girl’ persona and coming up short, then Sara Laschever, co-author of Ask For It, says you can blame your ingrained people-pleaser. “We’re taught to protect and nurture relationships, so we avoid negotiating because we worry that a disagreement over the ‘meat’ of a negotiation actually puts the relationship between the negotiators at risk,” she says.

And when it comes to being disliked (perish the thought), LinkedIn’s career expert and best-selling author Nicole Williams has her own theories. “Many times, co-workers will throw out the B-word when they think you’re a threat – which you very well might be.” So, don’t chuck in the towel just yet – follow our can’t fail career steps and you can maintain your morals, shirk nicknames and still push for that promotion or pocket that pay rise. You just need to know how to ask… 

Be the go-to girl
“Every time someone new depends on you, your ‘irreplaceability’ factor increases,” says Williams. “Know what your colleagues have coming up – in or outside of work – and figure out how you can be of help to them. People will be just as thankful that you’ve recommended the perfect restaurant for their friend’s birthday as they are when you offer to look over a report they’re working on.”

Build a track record
Think you haven’t been in your company long enough to move up? “You’ve got to demonstrate your value,” explains Williams. “The only person who knows (and remembers) exactly what you contribute is you – so keep a list of all your successes and accomplishments.” When the time is right, present your case to the boss and take a step up that career ladder.

Aim for better
“Don’t wait for review time to find out what your supervisor thinks your weaknesses are – be pro-active and ask,” Williams says. “Once you’re clued in, work on improving immediately.” It’s a point Anderson agrees with. “Even if your company doesn’t send you to training, keep learning on your own through reading, mentors, experts or peers.” And, adds Williams, “Do whatever it takes to improve and you’ll be far better off than the competitor who tries to cover their tracks.”

Become ‘Ms Organised’
Think you can improve the daily running of your organisation? “Jump on the opportunity,” says Williams. “Maybe it means offering to type up and deliver your team’s action items after your regular Monday meeting. Maybe it’s coming up with a system to improve quality assurance. Whatever it is, remember that even disorganised people love organisation, they’re just waiting for someone to do it for them.” Make that person you, and your value in the worlplace will soar...

Take on a new project
If the prospect of yet more work evokes a groan, consider that you’ll need to fulfill your current role to its maximum before moving on up. “Buck up and make more work for yourself, whether or not it’s expected of you,” states Williams. “If you’re unsure where to start, ask your boss what areas of the company she’d like to improve upon, come up with a plan of attack and pitch it to her.” OK, it’s not the easy route, but it’s sure to get you noticed.

Get involved!
“You have to find ways to fit in first so you can stand out later,” believes Anderson. Put simply, if you’re not part of the team, it’s time you were. “You have to be at the table to change the table,” Anderson goes on. “You must be seen as part of the team and part of the company’s culture.” So, observe the office norms – and play ball. “Watch the company’s leaders. How do they behave? What do they wear? How do they present information? In your own style, adopt their approaches – so, if your leadership team regularly gathers socially, join them.”

Lead the pack
Just because you’re not a leader yet doesn’t mean you can’t act like one. Indeed, doing so might be the ideal way to move up the ladder,  reckons Anderson. “The opportunity to demonstrate leadership is available to anyone who wants to take it. If you want to get ahead, show you’re a leader by taking on challenging assignments and sharing ideas in meetings. If you believe there is a better, more efficient or more cost effective way to do something, share it with your manager or just start doing it.”

Meet a mentor
You know those senior-level big wigs with the corner offices? They may seem scary, but they are sat on a hotbed of knowledge and experience and, says Williams, they’re likely to share the love – if you ask. “Find someone you don’t work directly under whose business-style you admire and ask if she’d like to grab coffee while you pick her brain.” Not sure where to find one? Check out LinkedIn and search for mentors on the Groups tool or via an Advanced People Search. “You’ll gain a powerful ally who will have good things to say when your name comes up.”

Toot your own horn
“Women often hesitate to call attention to themselves, don’t want to ‘boast’, believe that results speak for themselves and that their contributions will be recognised – but that is simply not the case!” insists Anderson. Shudder at the thought of self-promotion? “While it’s hard for some women, they must find a way that they’re comfortable with. If verbally telling yout manager what you’ve achieved doesn’t fit with your style, try doing so in writing.”

Name the day
“Many women keep waiting for the best time, a good moment or, even worse, just hope someone will notice and give them a salary increase,” says Anderson. So when is the right time to talk money? It can definately be a nerve-wracking experience and one which you need to prepare carefully for before going into management. “If you have been with your current employer during these past few tough years, have taken on increased responsibilities or are delivering greater results, this may be a good time to initiate a conversation – it is likely that your male counterparts have had more than one such talk.”

Play detective
“Find out what other people who are doing your role (or who have similar credentials) are getting paid. Find out what people in comparable roles at your competitors are getting paid. Use the web, talk to your social and professional networks.” “Try to obtain information from male peers who, based on research, are likely making more money than women you know,” adds Anderson.

Present your case
Compile a folder of your work achievements and you’ll have hard evidence for a pay rise. “This shows why you’re valuable to your employer,” Laschever says. “Include everything that makes you good at your job: your education, experience, and professional reputation, your talent, seniority, contacts in your field, social skills, leadership ability, history of accomplishments.” Who could possibly refuse?

Go big
Have a figure in mind? “Start high”, advises Laschever. “There’s a direct correlation between the target you take into a negotiation and what you get. Women typically ask for much less than men (often as much as 30 per cent less) and there are very few employers who will encourage you to take more than you ask for.”

Play the part
If it’s the thought of sitting one-to-one with your boss that has you reaching for your stress ball, Laschever suggests playing the scenario out with a trusty girlfriend. “Brief her on what you’re worried about and then run through the negotiation several times. Practice responses that move the conversation away from conflict or emotionalism toward joint problem-solving, get the other negotiator to counter-offer, and ask questions.”

Consider your value
They say timing is everything and Laschever agrees: “Ask for a rise at a time where your value is especially salient,” she says. “You’ve just landed an important new account, had a project written up by the business press, won an award or published a paper. Or, the account you work on is about to renew and you know they only want to work with you.” It all helps to make sure you that if you ask for changes at the right time you can get a positive response.

Seal the deal
“Remember, asking for a raise is not a conversation about fairness nor about getting the same compensation as someone else. It is about appropriate pay for the contributions you are making,” warns Anderson. And, when the job is done? “Ask your manager when they think an increase could occur and what you can do to help get one approved for you at that point.”

Ask nicely
“In order to be persuasive or influential, women need to be perceived as likeable,” says Laschever. “The style or way in which you ask for a promotion or pay increase can have a huge impact on the success of your negotiation. Make warm eye contact, smile, use an upbeat and cheerful tone of voice.

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